profiling for attitude
selecting for fit

Science of Attitudes Part 2

“People need frames not cages” (Ryle, “Frames and cages”1975)

When we try to predict behaviours of others, we often find it helpful to use ‘mental shortcuts’. Our brains feel quite happy when we ‘know’ someone is an ‘extrovert’ or a ‘narcissist’. We understand the concept, the ‘pattern’, and thus know what to expect of a person wearing this or that label. The person ends up in a ‘cage’ of a certain construct that we believe we understand from the label it is given.

Have you ever heard people labelling themselves or others as: “I am ESTP” or “My manager is INTJ”, or “my boss is an OCD”, or “I had depression last weekend!” The number of labels derived from the world of pseudo or ‘pop’ psychology, or from the area of mental health, is staggering. But is there any value in such labels?

Why we should NOT use the ‘psycho-babble’ labels…

First, if the labels derived from MBTI typology were correct (and the scientific data has presented an impressive volume of evidence to prove it is NOT) it would mean you are likely to be the same as half a billion other people on the planet. Hmm..! It is good to remember what Murray and Kluckhohn said: “Every person is in certain respects like all other people, like some other people, and like no other person”.

In truth, labelling yourself or others with terms such as narcissist, psychopath, being depressed or having OCD, etc. can be both misleading and unfair. There is much more to OCD than keeping your documents neatly organised. And much more to depression than feeling blue at the weekend. Organisations however, need some way of categorising for their people in order to understand how to motivate and reward them better, how to predict their performance, how to create effective teams, etc. So now, many organisations rely on identifying their people’s personality traits – often through various psychometric instruments.

Neuroscientific evidence

The personality construct as we, psychologists used to traditionally understand it, has been under strong criticism from all directions for over several decades now, and is perceived as rather antiquated and naïve. Over the last decade or so, modern social and personality psychology, as well as neuroscience, demonstrate that people’s thoughts, feelings, behaviours and even perceptions are largely changeable depending on the social, personal, professional and cultural context.

Additionally, neuroscience indicates that the ‘mind’ as a functionality of the brain, its ‘work in process’, is subject to ongoing, use dependent change, called neuroplasticity occurring throughout the entire lifespan.

What we believe…

For this reason, we believe we should steer as clear of mere characterological explanations for behaviours as possible, and consider the attitudes instead. We believe that an individuals’ behaviour is an outcome of their biogenic (referring to the aspects of our personality best accounted for by [innate] biological factors), sociogenic (referring to the aspects of our personality best accounted for by [learned] social and cultural factors), and idiogenic features (the counter-dispositional ‘free traits’ expression, context dependent). Additionally, when assessing attitudes, we have to consider people’s cognitive processes (intelligence), their affective states (emotion and motivation) as well as various projects they have been actively involved and engaged in throughout their life.

A simple way to look at it

In our understanding, behaviour is the immediate manifestation of people’s attitudes, not just personality traits. Consequently, we prefer to explain attitudes in terms of a three-element model, 3Hs – Head, Heart and Hands.

When we think about attitudes as a guiding force for a person’s behaviour, we see them as being rooted in their Head and Heart – their goals, values, aspirations, ideas of who they are, and who they want (or don’t want) to become. They may often plan all of it carefully in their heads using their memory, focus, attention, analysis and intelligence. Then they put it all together in the act of doing. They use their ‘hands’, they ‘do’ things, they make it all happen in real life. There is a very interesting and complex dynamics and interplay between all of the above, which is unique for every individual.

Testing and hiring for attitudes is simply better

It is for all these reasons that we strongly favour testing for attitudes using our advanced Multiple Assessment Process (MAP), rather than through personality testing. In this way we avoid simple and basic labels. Instead we promote a wide-angle image of a whole person with all its intricacies, fears, doubts, hopes, drives and aspirations. Only when we can present as full a picture as possible can your organisation make an informed decision about hiring them or not.

So, our 3Hs model:

Head – the mental construct of who they do (or don’t) want to become. This is a mixture of their goals, values, aspirations. They plan all of it carefully in their heads using their memory, focus, attention, analysis and intelligence

Heart – the internal drive, desire, passion and effort they will expend to see their construct come to fruition – the motivation to make it happen

Hands – the visible ‘doing’ aspects of their behaviours – the ways in which they go about making it happen, the actions they take on a daily basis

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