How people take psychological tests:

Understanding item response processes on self-report personality inventories

  • Marvin W Acklin Honolulu, Hawaii



Self-report personality inventories are the backbone of clinical and personnel assessment psychology. This paper considers how people take psychological tests by focusing on self-report item response process. Task decomposition of test item responding illuminates the processes which underlie task performance and result in a score. Attention to test item response processes has been advocated as a basis for construct validity. Developments in cognitive psychology permit detailed analysis of task components. Following a historical overview, a cognitive architecture is described which illustrates sequential and parallel processing of item content activating working, declarative, and episodic memory in a self-presentational process. Activation of working and episodic memory processes involves explicit and implicit mental simulations. Task decomposition provides insight into personality inventory test-taking behaviors, illuminates self-report personality test data, and generates hypotheses for empirical investigation. Implications for an integrative functional taxonomy of personality tests considering response process are discussed.


Keywords: personality assessment, cognitive psychology, self-report personality inventories, response processes

Personality Assessment