Psychological questionnaires: Assumptions behind the questions

I am doing the Finder’s Course in a few weeks and filled out most of the psychological pre-measures today. It was a reminder of how imprecise many questionnaires are.

They make assumptions that may not be shared by the ones taking it, so the results are unreliable.

For instance, one asked me what percent of time I am happy, sad, and neutral. I initially came up with a number far higher than 100% and then had to bring it down to 100%. The reality is that most of the time, and even right now, there is a mix of happiness/contentment, sadness, and neutrality. I would perhaps say 40% happy, 50% content, 50% neutral, and 20% sad.

The questionnaire assume that they are mutually exclusive and asks what percentage of the time I experience one or the other. If I am honest, I would have to say I experience all three most of the time, perhaps 90-95% of the time. To me, it makes far more sense to ask what percentage of each I am experiencing right now.

Update Jan. 18, 2017

I decided to add a few more examples of how questionnaires appears to make assumptions not neccesarily shared by the person answering the questions. I realize this may be a bit pedantic…!

People should try to understand their dreams and be guided by or take warning from them.

I am answering “no” since I don’t think this applies to people in general. I definetely work with my own dreams – often using Jungian active imagination – but I wouldn’t prescribe it for people in general. They may not be interested or benefit from it.

If the question is really about how I see dreams then the question is misleading and my answer (“no”) will give a different impression than what’s true. Still, I can’t second guess the intention behind the questionnaire and answer “yes” since it’s not true for me.

Once in a while I think of things too bad to talk about.

To whom? There is always at least one person I can share just about anything with so the answer is “no”. (I would think it would be for most people.)

At times I have very much wanted to leave home.

Again, what are they really asking about? My answer is “yes” since I like to travel. But do they mean to escape home because it’s too terrible to be there? In that case, the answer is “no”. I’ll have to take the question literally and say “yes” since I do like to travel.

I have had very peculiar and strange experiences.

Haven’t everyone?

I do not always tell the truth.

I can think of at least one time when I didn’t, and several “white lies” so the answer is “yes”. And I would think that’s the case for just about everyone. Is this a question where they assume the correct answer is “yes” and they want to see how honest you are?

Most anytime I would rather sit and daydream than do anything else.

This is a clear “no”. I really like to sit and rest with my experience, or do Vortex Healing for myself and others, but not daydreaming.

I have met problems so full of possibilities that I have been unable to make up my mind about them.

I don’t understand this question so I’ll say “no”. What does it mean that a problem has possibilities? And what does it mean to make up my mind about it?

I see things or animals or people around me that others do not see.

Here I’ll say “no” because I think I understand what they ask about. (If I hallucinate?) But the real answer is “yes”. I tend to notice things and animals that others don’t see, partly because I have a strong artistic inclination and am very visuallly oriented.

I get angry sometimes.

Who doesn’t? Is this another question to see how honest we are?

In school I was sometimes sent to the principal for bad behavior.

Yes, once. But it was because I had been blamed for something I wasn’t involved in. (I didn’t even know what the situation was.) If they want to know if I was troublesome as a kid, the answer is “no” (I was the boy scout type), but the literal answer is “yes”. Again, I won’t second guess the intention so I’ll answer “yes”.

My speech is the same as always (not faster or slower, no slurring or hoarseness)

Always is a big word. My answer is “no” since I have gotten a cold in the past where my voice got more hoarse. Also, I notice my voice changes a bit depending on mood and energy level. I assume this is the case for everyone.

I know who is responsible for most of my troubles.

Yes, it’s me.

I do not worry about catching diseases

Who doesn’t, now and then. When I was in Nepal and India, I certainly took precautions.

I used to keep a diary.

Is the question whether I have kept a diary at any point in my life. Or if I used to but don’t anymore?

I frequently have to fight against showing that I am bashful.

I tend to be shy but I don’t try to “fight againts it”. I hope it’s the fighting part they are asking about, and not the shyness.

Someone has been trying to poison me.

Yes, in a sense, and we are all in the same boat. Modern industry is not nearly well enough regulated for emissions and what ends up in our food, air, and water.

I am against giving money to beggars.

Much better to give to organizations that help people in need, and – in the longer run – support strong social safety nets. Are they literally asking about giving money to beggars, or whether I wish to support them? I certainly wish to support them, but ideally by supporting organizations and policies.

Sometimes, when embarrassed, I break out in a sweat which annoys me greatly

Are they asking about sweating when embarrased, or whether we are annoyed by the sweating? Those are two very different questions.

There is something wrong with my mind.

Well, I sometimes believe my thoughts. On the one hand, it’s very natural and understandable. On the other hand, it is a bit of a malfunction.

I don’t blame people for trying to grab everything they can get in this world.

Hm. I don’t have much sympathy for it, but the word “blame” doesn’t fit. I see it more as an expression of their background, and perhaps a combination of pain/trauma and immaturity.

Sometimes in elections I vote for people about whom I know very little.

Yes, absolutely. That’s because I vote in Norway and we vote for political parties and their platforms, not people. I am very well informed about the parties and their platforms. I have to take their question literally and answer “yes” but if they think that means I am not invested in being well informed, that’s wrong.

If I were an artist I would like to draw flowers

I have drawn flowers once or twice so the answer is “yes”. I obviously wouldn’t want to focus on it or specialize in it, but that’s not the question.

I drink an unusually large amount of water every day.

Yes, because my doctor told me to, and because I don’t want to have kindney stones again.

I am sure I am being talked about.

Yes, I think my parents sometimes talk about me. That’s natural and an expression of caring. Again, what are they really asking about? My answer is clearly “yes” but if they are really asking if I think people say unpleasant things about me behind my back they won’t get the correct answer.

I seem to make friends about as quickly as others do.

Hm, the answer is “no”. I seem to make friends a bit easier than average. If they think that “no” means I make friends less quickly they are misinterpreting the answer.

The things that some of my family have done have frightened me.

How far out in the extended family do they mean? I certainly have relatives who did things that frightened me. One was the doctor at the last execution in Norway a long time ago. And one branch may well have made their fortune through putting up false navigation lights for ships and then robbing the wrecks. The answer to the literal question is “yes” even if it doesn’t apply to anyone in my immediate family.

I feel anxiety about something or someone almost all the time.

When I look closely, I can find some stirring of anxiety yes. It may not be very obvious but the answer is “yes”.

Sometimes I become so excited that I find it hard to get to sleep.

Hm, yes. When I edit photos I sometimes get so engaged I stay up a bit later than usual.

I hear strange things when I am alone.

I heard foxes yapping the other night which I would say is pretty unusual. But I think I know what they ask about here and say “no”. They really need to be more precise with their questions.

Someone has control over my mind.

Well, life does in a sense. Thoughts happen. They come out of the blue. But here too, I think I know what they mean and say “no”.

People generally demand more respect for their own rights than they are willing to allow for others.

Yes, especially between species. People tend to favor human rights but not equally strong rights for non-human species. The answer is clearly “yes”.

If it’s within the human species, then the answer would be “no”, “maybe”, or “sometimes”.

Someone has been trying to influence my mind.

Yes, obviously. People in marketing do it all the time with commercials, product placement, and similar strategies. Politicians do it as well. If I take the question literally, the answer is “yes”. Although I suspect they are really asking about something else.

I have no fear of water.

Completely depends. Usually not, but once when I was about to drown I certainly did fear the water. So the answer is “no”. I have experienced that fear.

I have some habits that are really harmful.

I would say a definite “yes”. I sometimes believe my thoughts, and few things are more harmful than that. At the same time, I assume the question may really ask about drug use and similar things. (Equally definite “no”.)

In the end, I want to say: I know. I have been contrarian here. The people designing these questionares have to balance using simple-to-understand everyday language and precice language, and they often err on the side of the simple. They also have several questions measuring the same, so one or two misses are averaged or filtered out.

At the same time, I have to say I wish some psychological questionaires used a more unambigious language. Some are very clear and are obviously well thought through. Others seem more shoddy.

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