How psychological tests can change your life…and the world

Psychometrics is “the science of measuring mental capacities and processes.” Early in grad school at Virginia Tech, I was a psychometrics nerd. I loved learning about how to construct psychological tests and assess their statistical validity and reliability.


I was very passionate about a topic that only about a dozen people in the state of Virginia could understand. I had lively debates with my dog.


If you need a good snoozer, I’ll send you my master’s thesis, “Gender and Ethnicity-Based Differential Item Functioning on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator.”


I have (somewhat) relaxed my ivory tower standards of psychometric perfection. However, I credit my studies for alerting me to biases in standardized testing. Race and gender bias are insidious parts of many of the tests we use to make employment, educational, and other important decisions about people.


I’m glad that there are psychometricians out there who work diligently to root out these biases and address them.


Statistically validated psychological tests can be excellent tools for sparking personal growth and development. The purpose of this article is to help you understand what happens to your motivation and productivity when you take a psychological assessment. At the end of the article, I will recommend three assessments that can help you gain self-insight and set goals to change your life, and quite possibly, the world.


Let’s do this.



How do psychological tests affect motivation? 


The purpose of taking a psychological test is to acquire information about yourself in a systematic (and preferably bias-free) way.


Once you acquire the feedback, you may discover there are some gaps between where you are and where you want to be. Humans are motivated to reduce gaps because we are like a rubber band being stretched between the two ends of the gap. As I’ve written before, no stretch, no motivation.


This uncomfortable stretch between the actual and the ideal can inspire you to set goals.


But for this goal setting magic to happen, you must both (1) believe the results are accurate and, (2) care about the gap.



Are psychological tests accurate?


A psychological test is designed to be two things: reliable and valid. Reliability can be inferred when participants are consistent in their responses to the test items across time.


Validity means many things, but I won’t delve into the nomological network with you today. That is one of those things reserved for debates with my dog.


One aspect of validity is that the psychological test accurately predicts future behavior.


For example, all tests given in a pre-employment context should predict your later on-the-job performance.


To be valid, a test should also be free from non-test-related bias, I don’t just mean gender and ethnicity-based bias, but also things like social desirability bias.


Social desirability bias is, as you can probably guess, our tendency to answer questions on an assessment in a way that will be viewed favorably by other people. Self-reports are fraught with social desirability biases.


Methods such as anonymity and “specialized questioning techniques” (that’s psychobabble for “we are tricking you into thinking we are testing one thing when we’re actually testing something else”) help reduce social desirability bias.


It is also important for you to approach a psychological test with the intention of being honest. You may have heard the saying in the data analysis world, “garbage in, garbage out.” If you are looking to learn about yourself, be authentic about the good, the bad, and the ugly when you take an assessment.


If you have “faked good” or “faked bad” on a psychological or personality test, you will completely dismiss the results because you know that they are garbage.


In short, if you trust the test and feel confident that you answered the questions honestly, you are more likely to feel motivation to act on any gaps the results reveal.



Do psychological tests measure things you truly care about?


If a test of musical aptitude revealed that I was not meant for the job of opera singer, I would shrug and say, “Oh, well. Onward.” Yes, there is a huge gap between my musical ability and that of an opera singer. But I have never desired to be an opera singer, so no biggie.


The results of a psychological assessment need to reveal a gap that matters to you. The end point should be something you want…desperately.


My 14-year-old son loves Buzzfeed quizzes. One of his favorite things to do is to see if the app can guess his birthday, test his knowledge on superhero movies, or find out what Friends character he most resembles.


But, as much as he cares about the results, the knowledge of what pizza topping best represents his current mood does not push him in the direction of self-improvement. He simply retakes the quiz until he gets the result he wants.


Even my teenage son knows that Buzzfeed quizzes are not reliable nor valid predictors of anything. They are just for fun.


To feel motivated to act on your results, the assessment needs to be reliable, valid, AND tied to an issue about which you care deeply.



What if a psychological test is designed for self-knowledge only?


Lots of personality tests are designed for self-development, rather than to be used in decision-making.


For example, the VIA Character Strengths Survey reveals “the positive parts of your personality that impact how you think, feel and behave.” A focus on your strengths is designed to inspire you to live a better life.




If you are not using one of our core strengths in your current job, there is a gap.


If you are overusing one of our strengths to such a high degree that it is becoming a liability, there is a gap.


Many of the psychometrically-sound personality tests (like VIA) are development-focused but still can identify gaps and inspire motivation.



Do you feel willing and able to bridge a gap revealed by a psychological test?


Some folks live in the “that’s the way I am, and that’s the way I’ll always be” world.


Other people don’t have the self-efficacy or growth mindset to work on issues they see as immutable or impossible.


The secret motivational sauce in psychological assessments is you: your ability and willingness to trust yourself, try something new, be vulnerable, and set goals for improvement.


In summary, psychological tests can help you be more productive if they are:

  • Reliable and valid (statistically)
  • Tied to an issue you care about
  • Reveal a gap between how you are now and how you want to be in the future, AND…
  • You are willing and able to bridge the gap


Psychological assessments increase knowledge. Knowledge is power. And, you must decide whether to stand in your power.



Put this into action…now


Let’s say that you want to help change the world. The volume of things you could do are infinite and perhaps overwhelming. You see injustice, want to fight it, and are looking for a place to start.


Consider gathering some data about yourself to help direct and motivate your efforts.



Step one: Take one or more tests from Harvard’s Project Implicit.


These are fantastic assessments that measure your implicit stereotypes about a range of traits such as: race, gender, skin tone, sexuality, weight, religion, and more.


All the IAT (Implicit Association Tests) on the Project Implicit website are reaction time tests. So, social desirability bias is mitigated.


Take as many IATs as you want and note your results. Which results make you uncomfortable? Do you see a gap between where you are and where you want to be?



Step two: Complete the 16PF (16 Personality Factors)


My college-aged daughter took the 16PF as a part of her intro to psychology course. When she came home for the summer, she texted the link to the rest of our family. We all took the assessment.


In one of the longest, most rousing, family dinners in Gratias household history, we reviewed our different results, laughed, and celebrated (or lamented) the historical or pop culture figures with whom we shared personality types.


Take THAT, Buzzfeed.


Once you have reviewed your “freakishly accurate” (their words) personality profile, I encourage you to read these two articles from the website:


Note what aspects of your personality will assist in your gap-reduction efforts. Construct some if/then scenarios to help you deal with the foreseeable pitfalls.



Step three: Complete the Activist Archetype quiz


This short but insightful quiz was written by activist and scholar, Omkari Williams. Although not subjected to statistical testing, the intent of the quiz is simple: to let you know that you don’t have to be Martin Luther King, Jr., or Malala Yousafi to be an activist.


The Activist Archetype quiz will let you know whether you are: The Headliner, The Producer, The Organizer, or The Indispensable. In Omkari’s words, “Quizzes are fun so I figured I would create one, and my hope is that it expands peoples’ understanding and that they then will, ‘go out and activist.’”


Note that you will have to provide your email address to gain access to this quiz. I recommend doing so. I receive Omkari’s monthly newsletters and they are beautifully written and inspirational.



Step four: Set goals


This is where I promote my ebook, Set Goals…even if you’re not convinced you’ll achieve them.


Done. That wasn’t too painful, right?



Dos and Don’ts of Psychological Assessments:



  • Make sure the test you are taking has published reliability and validity studies. Google Scholar is a great place to search.
  • Decide if you really care about the outcomes. Challenge yourself to care.
  • Look for gaps between where you are and where you want to be.
  • Set goals for personal improvement.



  • Ignore feedback just because it’s uncomfortable.
  • Shelve the results with no intention of revisiting them in the future.
  • Overwhelm yourself with too many psychological assessments at once. Choose ones that are relevant to you now. Save others for later.
  • Be afraid to be vulnerable and “stretched” toward a better way of living



There are two reasons why I wrote about psychometric testing in this article.


First, my Ph.D. is in industrial/organizational psychology, which is the study of human behavior in the workplace. So, it was fun for me to take this walk down memory lane. I hope it wasn’t totally self-indulgent and that you learned a thing or two along the way.


Second, the “put this into action” exercise above was intentional. This post was written three weeks after the murder of George Floyd and three months after the murder of Breonna Taylor.


The series of tests above can help us realize that we are affected by our biases, some of which lie below our conscious understanding. Once we have that knowledge, we must do the work to unpack, unlearn, and do differently going forward.



And, for the record, Black Lives Matter.


Set Goals eBook

Are you ready to finally achieve what you set out to do?

Read my eBook Set Goals…even if you’re not convinced you’ll achieve them.

Dr. Melissa GratiasMelissa Gratias (pronounced “Gracious”) used to think that productivity was a result of working long hours. And, she worked a lot of hours. Then, she learned that productivity is a skill set, not a personality trait. Now, Melissa is a productivity expert who coaches and trains other businesspeople to be more focused, balanced, and effective. She is a prolific writer and speaker who travels the world helping people change how they work and improve how they live. Contact her at or 912-417-2505. Sign up to receive her productivity tips via email.


  1. Seana Turner

    There is a lot of digest here. I have had conversations before over “garden variety” tests, but haven’t pursued deeper tests like the ones you discuss. I think having a goal and purpose. Knowing ourselves better, even the ugly parts, is worth the effort.

    • Melissa Gratias, Ph.D.

      I agree with you, Seana. Setting a goal beforehand and selecting a validated test based on that goal will definitely make us accept the feedback and know ourselves better.

  2. Janet Barclay

    I found this fascinating. I used to be really into the MBTI so at that time I’d have been very interested in reading your thesis.

    I’m especially interested in checking out Project Implicit, as one of the many people who are starting to understand that there’s a lot more to “not being a racist” than we ever imagined. It sounds like an excellent way to uncover our deep-rooted beliefs so we can properly see the areas we need to work on. Thank you so much!

    • Melissa Gratias, Ph.D.

      I was directed toward the Project Implicit series of tests by @rachel.cargle on Instagram. She’s a great person to follow if you don’t already do so.

  3. Linda Samuels

    I have a love/hate relationship with personality and psychological testing. I’ve taken various ones over the years and sometimes the results seem relevant and other times too generic.

    I’ve never heard about Project Implicit. Given the current climate, that sounds like an excellent one to explore. We don’t know what we don’t know.

    Your family dinner sounds like it was amazing with everyone discussing (and maybe refuting) their discoveries.

    • Melissa Gratias, Ph.D.

      Discussing our 16PF results during dinner was really fun. It was during quarantine and we needed the distraction. We all remember it fondly.

  4. Lucy Kelly

    Fascinating. I chose the test for old people/young people as that’s a bias I notice a lot in the work environment as I get older myself. I was happy but not surprised to learn I have no automatic preference between young and old people. Thanks for letting us know about this resource, I plan to take all the tests!

  5. Ronni

    This post is fascinating! I learned a lot and I learned some of which I already knew.
    I love taking tests and I did take one here. The answers were spot on!

    Bravo! Well done!

  6. Julie Bestry

    I think we need a YouTube channel so we can judge the debates with your dog on nomological network issues.

    I love that you tied your area of expertise to a passion for social equity. This illustrates so much about — so much GOOD about you.

    I’ve taken many of the Harvard Implicit Bias tests before, and always find that my lack of hand-brain coordination makes me feel very sluggish. It tells me that “Your responses suggested a moderate automatic preference for Dark Skinned People over Light Skinned People.” I’m not surprised; I don’t know if that’s because I’m so pale, so someone who doesn’t look like cream cheese appeals, or what.

    I recently did the VIA and found that my key signature strengths are humor, perspective, love of learning, and love, but I haven’t a clue as to whether I have a gap or how to apply them. And now I’m off to try the 16 Personalities.


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