The Use of Self-Report Data in Psychology

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What is a Self-Report?

In psychology, a self-report is any test, measure, or survey that relies on an individual's own report of their symptoms, behaviors, beliefs, or attitudes. Self-report data is gathered typically in paper-and-pencil or electronic format or sometimes through an interview.

Self-reporting is commonly used in psychological studies because it can yield valuable and diagnostic information to a researcher or a clinician.

This article explores examples of how self-report data is used in psychology. It also covers the advantages and disadvantages of this approach.

Examples of Self-Reports

To understand how self-reports are used in psychology, it can be helpful to look at some examples. Some many well-known assessments and inventories rely on self-reporting to collect data.


One of the most commonly used self-report tools is the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) for personality testing. This inventory includes more than 500 questions focused on different areas, including behaviors, psychological health, interpersonal relationships, and attitudes. It is often used as a mental health assessment, but it is also used in legal cases, custody evaluations, and as a screening instrument for some careers.

The 16 Personality Factor (PF) Questionnaire

This personality inventory is often used as a diagnostic tool to help therapists plan treatment. It can be used to learn more about various individual characteristics, including empathy, openness, attitudes, attachment quality, and coping style.

Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI)

The MBTI is a popular personality measure that describes personality types in four categories: introversion or extraversion, sensing or intuiting, thinking or feeling, and judging or perceiving. A letter is taken from each category to describe a person's personality type, such as INTP or ESFJ.


Personality inventories and psychology assessments often utilize self-reporting for data collection. Examples include the MMPI, the 16PF Questionnaire, and the MBTI.

Advantages of Self-Report Data

One of the primary advantages of self-reporting is that it can be easy to obtain. It is also an important way that clinicians diagnose their patients—by asking questions. Those making the self-report are usually familiar with filling out questionnaires.

For research, it is inexpensive and can reach many more test subjects than could be analyzed by observation or other methods. It can be performed relatively quickly, so a researcher can obtain results in days or weeks rather than observing a population over the course of a longer time frame.

Self-reports can be made in private and can be anonymized to protect sensitive information and perhaps promote truthful responses.

Disadvantages of Self-Report Data

Collecting information through a self-reporting has limitations. People are often biased when they report on their own experiences. For example, many individuals are either consciously or unconsciously influenced by "social desirability." That is, they are more likely to report experiences that are considered to be socially acceptable or preferred.

Self-reports are subject to these biases and limitations:

  • Honesty: Subjects may make the more socially acceptable answer rather than being truthful.
  • Introspective ability: The subjects may not be able to assess themselves accurately.
  • Interpretation of questions: The wording of the questions may be confusing or have different meanings to different subjects.
  • Rating scales: Rating something yes or no can be too restrictive, but numerical scales also can be inexact and subject to individual inclination to give an extreme or middle response to all questions.
  • Response bias: Questions are subject to all of the biases of what the previous responses were, whether they relate to recent or significant experience and other factors.
  • Sampling bias: The people who complete the questionnaire are the sort of people who will complete a questionnaire. Are they representative of the population you wish to study?

Self-Report Info With Other Data

Most experts in psychological research and diagnosis suggest that self-report data should not be used alone, as it tends to be biased. Research is best done when combining self-reporting with other information, such as an individual’s behavior or physiological data.

This “multi-modal” or “multi-method” assessment provides a more global, and therefore more likely accurate, picture of the subject.

The questionnaires used in research should be checked to see if they produce consistent results over time. They also should be validated by another data method demonstrating that responses measure what they claim they measure. Questionnaires and responses should be easy to discriminate between controls and the test group.

How to Create a Self-Report Study

If you are creating a self-report tool for psychology research, there are a few key steps you should follow. First, decide what type of data you want to collect. This will determine the format of your questions and the type of scale you use. 

Next, create a pool of questions that are clear and concise. The goal is to have several items that cover all the topics you wish to address. Finally, pilot your study with a small group to ensure it is valid and reliable.


When creating a self-report study, determine what information you need to collect and test the assessment with a group of individuals to determine if the instrument is reliable.

A Word From Verywell

Self-reporting can be a useful tool for collecting data. The benefits of self-report data include lower costs and the ability to collect data from a large number of people. However, self-report data can also be biased and prone to errors.

6 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Kristalyn Salters-Pedneault, PhD
 Kristalyn Salters-Pedneault, PhD, is a clinical psychologist and associate professor of psychology at Eastern Connecticut State University.