The “new normal” changes everything in traditional personality assessment – and more.

Who’s the extravert now, in our "new normal"? The individual making 100 phone calls a day (including to their mother) but works and mostly stays in their relatively isolated space in compliance with CDC guidance during this pandemic? Or the people protesting for social justice -- most peacefully, some not – with or without masks, but definitely “out” in physically social groups?

{Note: It’s regrettable that we’ve somehow confused “social” with “proximal” in coining and using the term, “social distancing.” Uncertainty is largely managed by being social but being social isn’t necessarily about “huddling” or “cuddling” – important, though they may be. “Physical spacing” would be a more appropriate term to reflect how this virus operates without implying that it should cause us to be “farther” apart in social vs. physical ways.}

Similarly, is a prolific online social media user an extravert, or something else? Does being “agreeable” (or perhaps more evidentially, “disagreeable”) in person look the same online as in a room with others? One thing’s for sure: The “new normal” in which we live in (hi Paul, if you’re reading) changes everything in traditional personality assessment.

There are two major factors that have changed assessment in current times, and especially in our "new normal":

  1.    Technology
  2.     Norms


Technology made the first move in assessment by somewhat passively moving the paper and pencil instrument online. These early assessments were sometimes referred to as “automatic page turners.”

Significant changes have been made to reflect the incredible practicality, scalability, and power that technology adds to personality assessment. But essentially, these changes have been made to insure the equivalence of online assessment with the old “rock and chisel” approach. Issues regarding cheating, user interface, and standardization across respondents were among the first and biggest issues addressed – and they’ve largely been controlled.

But there’s a bigger issue. Much bigger. And it’s particularly evident now thanks to the rapid disruption (chaos) and changes caused by this global pandemic and enabled by modern technology. Here is the real game changer for personality assessment...


Less than three months ago “screen time” was considered a psychological and biological hazard (and it still is). But now it’s expected or required for most of us to spend far more time staring into the blue rays of our phones, tablets, computers, etc. Moreover, in that three months ago, now so far, far away in terms of the changes that have since taken place, offices and workspaces were almost completely communal (i.e., no walls, or, "open plan" offices). People were encouraged to work together -- and not just in terms of cooperation. We literally "worked together." Now we’re at home, largely isolated from physical proximity with others. And when we do venture out, we’re wearing masks and staying at least six feet from others. Even places of traditional social gathering are being redesigned or used to keep us from getting too close to others.

Now who’s the introvert? Maybe the individual that seldomly leaves the confines of "self quarantining" is simply highly conscientious about the behavioral approach (our only approach as of now) to mitigating the effects of a pathogen that does its evil work when we get close to each other?

In my career I’ve built, reviewed, and used hundreds of psychological assessments including the “latest and greatest.” But in a new reality where being online, once considered the “second world” is beginning to take over as a primary means of being, assessments still operate primarily on traditional (historical) norms as if technology didn’t exist – or at least play the role that it does now.

Personality assessment now needs a complete overhaul. Though we are, and always will be, social animals, what defines “social” has already changed radically from what it was not too many weeks ago.

Technology goes faster than science.

Science is largely about redundancy and standardization. Science is all about reducing uncertainty (and something we could use a lot more of now). Technology is about innovation and change. The way things get done can change overnight, and some adapt to these changes faster than others. It’s highly likely that comfort and skill with technology is “contaminating” what we know and how we know about human behavior. And this is just the beginning. Technology has crushed social studies and liberal arts in our educational systems.

The truth is we don’t know what many of our traditional psychological constructs look like in the "new normal." But we are beginning to acknowledge that behavior in this era of technology-driven, -accelerated, or -enabled change is not what it used to be. And it certainly isn't what it used to be before the spread of a still poorly understood and unmanaged virus.

What isn’t changing is the need for a good understanding of human behavior, and the psychological sciences are aggressively adapting to remain relevant with new tools and greater urgency.

Work is being done to make the changes necessary, but psychology has to admit that we are losing ground to the pace of global and technological change. More research, faster with more rapid application via techniques, tools and even therapies is needed. The very concept of "norms" is nearly moot.

It’s been said that the more things change, the more they stay the same. In this time of logarithmic acceleration, the most basic of psychological principles still apply. People are social, and assertive individuals balancing the need to get along with the drive to achieve and stand out via competition. It’s how we do this that has changed, and we need to understand how this changes our understanding of all behavior.

And this is true: The farther behind we get in psychology, the more important it becomes. Our need for understanding, predicting and influencing human behavior has never been greater.

Be well.

Psychways is owned and produced by Talentlift, LLC.

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