How Self-Report Inventories Are Used in Psychology

Self-report Inventory
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A self-report inventory is a type of psychological test often used in personality assessment. This type of test is often presented in a paper-and-pencil format or may even be administered on a computer. A typical self-report inventory presents a number of questions or statements that may or may not describe certain qualities or characteristics of the test subject.

Chances are good that you have taken a self-report inventory at some time in the past. Such questionnaires are often seen in doctors’ offices, in online personality tests, and in market research surveys. Even the fun quizzes you often see shared on Facebook are examples of self-report inventories. While this is an example of these inventories being used in an informal and entertaining way, such surveys can and do serve much more serious goals in collecting data and helping to identify potential problems.

This type of survey can be used to look at your current behaviors, past behaviors and possible behaviors in hypothetical situations. There are many different self-report inventories. The following are just a few well-known examples.

The MMPI-2

Perhaps the most famous self-report inventory is the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI). This personality test was first published in the 1940s, later revised in the 1980s and is today known as the MMPI-2. The test contains more than 500 statements that assess a wide variety of topics including interpersonal relationships, abnormal behaviors, and psychological health as well as political, social, religious, and sexual attitudes.

The 16 Personality Factor Questionnaire

Another well-known example of a self-report inventory is the questionnaire developed by Raymond Cattell to assess individuals based on his trait theory of personality. This test is used to generate personality profile of the individual and is often used to evaluate employees and to help people select a career.

California Personality Inventory

California personality inventory is based on the MMPI, from which nearly half questions are drawn. The test is designed to measure such characteristic as self-control, empathy, and independence.

Strengths and Weaknesses of Self-Report Inventories

Self-report inventories are often a good solution when researchers need to administer a large number of tests in relatively short space of time. Many self-report inventories can be completed very quickly, often in as little as 15 minutes. This type of questionnaire is an affordable option for researchers faced with tight budgets.

Another strength is that the results of self-report inventories are generally much more reliable and valid than projective tests. Scoring of the tests a standardized and based on norms that have been previously established.

However, self-report inventories do have their weaknesses. For example, while many tests implement strategies to prevent "faking good" or "faking bad" (essentially pretending to be better or worse that one really is), research has shown that people are able to exercise deception while taking self-report tests.

Another weakness is that some tests are very long and tedious. For example, the MMPI takes approximately 3 hours to complete. In some cases, test respondents may simply lose interest and not answer questions accurately. Additionally, people are sometimes not the best judges of their own behavior. Some individuals may try to hide their own feelings, thoughts, and attitudes.

5 Sources
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  1. Butcher JN. Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory. In Weiner IB, Craighead WE, eds. The Corsini Encyclopedia of Psychology, Vol 4. New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons; 2010. doi:10.1002/9780470479216.corpsy0573

  2. Cattell HEP. The Sixteen Personality Factor (16PF) Questionnaire. In Dorfman WI, Hersen M, eds. Understanding Psychological Assessment. Perspectives on Individual Differences. Springer, Boston, MA; 2001. doi:10.1007/978-1-4615-1185-4_10

  3. Jones CJ, Peskin H. California Psychological Inventory (CPI). In Ziegler-Hill V, Shackelford TK, eds. Encyclopedia of Personality and Individual Differences. New York: Springer; 2017. doi:10.1007/978-3-319-28099-8

  4. Sjöberg L. Correction for faking in self-report personality testsScand J Psychol. 2015;56(5):582–591. doi:10.1111/sjop.12231

  5. Hartman NS, Grubb WL 3rd. Deliberate faking on personality and emotional intelligence measuresPsychol Rep. 2011;108(1):120–138. doi:10.2466/03.09.28.PR0.108.1.120-138

Additional Reading
  • Anastasi, A., & Urbina, S. (1997) Psychological Testing. (6th ed.). New York: MacMillan.

By Kendra Cherry
Kendra Cherry, MS, is the author of the "Everything Psychology Book (2nd Edition)" and has written thousands of articles on diverse psychology topics. Kendra holds a Master of Science degree in education from Boise State University with a primary research interest in educational psychology and a Bachelor of Science in psychology from Idaho State University with additional coursework in substance use and case management.