Conference Coverage

Case shows clinical assessment supersedes psychological screening tools



– Using psychological screenings for law enforcement employment decisions can be a worthwhile supplement to more traditional hiring procedures, but such tools should be used with caution, a recent case study suggests.

“Pre-employment psychological evaluations for police officers are increasingly utilizing self-reported personality assessments to identify attributes in candidates that have shown to correlate with job performance outcomes,” Ann Marie Mckenzie Cassidy, DO, of Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, and her colleagues wrote in an abstract presented at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law.

“As research supporting the predictive power of written self-reported measurements expands, the call for this empirically validated data to be weighted over clinician judgment is becoming more substantive,” the researchers wrote. “The following case exemplifies a psychological evaluation where test results were either inconclusive or strongly conflicted with the clinical picture of the candidate.”

The applicant was a 34-year-old male Army veteran who received an honorable discharge after three deployments. Though he had no relevant medical or formal psychiatric history or drug use, he said he did drink alcohol heavily for a short time after joining the Army. He also had four speeding citations and one drag racing citation.

His personal history revealed several problems, including a military write-up for yelling at a subordinate and a history of difficulties working with his supervisor.

“While working as a car mechanic, he was unable to resolve a conflict with a difficult customer” and quit his job without notice, leading his employer to say he would not hire the applicant again. Yet, the applicant “denied interpersonal issues at work” and said he did not recall the yelling incident. He also said the situation where he quit with only 2 hours’ notice was unfair.

The applicant reported stress, “feeling down and having a diminished interest in activities” following his deployment in Iraq, but he turned down treatment for his stress. He also “used unprofessional language during the examination, and, when asked to refrain from cursing, he did not express concern about this conduct.”

His psychological test results on the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory-2 (MMPI-2), however, suggested “a pattern of positive impression management and defensiveness that is not likely to accurately represent existing psychopathology,” the researchers reported. “Closer review suggests the applicant is apt to see himself as having high moral standards and not having aggressive impulses,” they wrote. Similarly, the applicant’s Sixteen Personality Factor Questionnaire results “reflected an individual who is tough-minded, with low anxiety, who is emotionally stable, deferential, and relaxed.”

These two tools’ findings conflicted with the applicant’s history and presentation, and the examiner deemed him “psychologically unsuitable for hire.”

The researchers said this case reinforces the importance of investigating how empirical data – even with tools such as the MMPI-2, whose predictive power has been validated in several studies – are weighted and used with clinical psychological assessments.

“There needs to be greater feedback about divergent clinical observations and test data before empirically validated test correlates are weighted more heavily,” the researchers concluded. “Until there is greater exploration of divergent or complementary testing findings and clinical judgment, test data should not be weighted over clinical judgment in psychological evaluations.”

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