How Would You Rate Yourself?

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How outgoing are you? How anxious are you? How would your friends describe you? In personality tests, we are asked these questions and more. Self-report measures are very popular, especially when it comes to personality. After all - don't we know ourselves best? Though any one person probably knows more about his inner world than the passive observer, research in Chapter 2 suggests that personality self-reporting, though generally accurate, can have its disadvantages.

The first problem is distortion, or having a tendency to unintentionally portray yourself in a certain light. For people with pervasive thought distortions - such as those with a personality disorder (Lilienfield et al, 55) - unintentional blurring of reality is a particular concern. This seems pretty valid to me, since it is something I have definitely experienced myself, and also when talking to friends who are down and might even be somewhat depressed. I find that it is so much easier to focus on the negative things, especially the negative things about myself, when I am in a pessimistic frame of mind.

Likewise, if you've got narcissistic personality disorder and think highly of yourself, you will naturally be inclined to portray yourself in a very rosy light. Adolf Hitler, thought by many to have narcissistic tendencies, is a good example of this: almost all of his writings and speeches portray him, and indeed the German people as a whole, as exalted and almost superhuman figures. (Hitler has, of course, been subject to many posthumous psychlogical assessments, one of which can be seen here.)

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Another problem the book identified was using response sets (Lilienfield et al, 56). The last time you applied for a job, what kind of answers did you give to application and interview questions? Did you draw attention to your positive characteristics, and maybe even exaggerate them, for the sake of impressing the interviewers? If so, you've used a response set. As social creatures, we are very concerned with how we appear to others, and as we all have experienced, this can affect our ability to be objective when we self-evaluate.

I have certainly highlighted my positive attributes when job interviewing, sometimes without consciously intending to. I'm graduating soon and will not be surprised if I have this same tendency in my post-grad job interviewing, especially since the interviews will be pretty high-stakes at that point. Highlighting one's positive attributes seems pretty benign to me in circumstances like this, although it can be an issue, particularly when it transitions into outright lying. This is a fact which we are all reminded of as election season begins.

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What are some other potential downfalls of self-reporting? Do the benefits seem to outweigh the consequences? How about when self-reporting is used in a clinical setting?

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As a business major I have seen a few examples where this can be especially important. This story just this morning was about a critical economic indicator on Wall Street - determined by a self-reported survey of banks - being manipulated by traders with their hands in the cookie jar. Apparently the manipulation arose out of necessity during the market crisis and then continued until today without anyone realizing. Banks were essentially reporting that they could get money very easily when in fact it may have been more difficult for them in order to keep the market from losing confidence in them.

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This page contains a single entry by Elizabeth Casey published on January 25, 2012 5:22 PM.

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