Personality Assessments And Their Use In Criminology

Personality Assessments And Their Use In Criminology


Personality assessments, or tests, have many uses in science and everyday living. When helping someone find a profession, career counselors usually give the person a career inventory, which asks them to respond to a list of questions or statements. The answers provided on the inventory tell the counselor what careers are more appropriate for that person.

In addition to looking for a career, personality tests are used in some professions to determine the person’s mental health, for example, law enforcement. Personality tests are diagnostic tools used to determine whether a person requires therapy and the type of treatment. These tests are also used to assess whether a patient is experiencing changes in their personality. In an academic and research environment, personality tests are used to test theories.

Types Of Personality Tests

Experts place personality tests in two categories. Each type of test benefits the user (the person who administers it) because it can be standardized and used to determine norms.

Projective Tests

Projective assessments give the test-taker an ambiguous scenario, object, or scene and then ask for an interpretation of what is before them. The Rorschach Inkblot Test, for instance, is a projective test used to evaluate personalities. Most often used as a part of making assessments in psychotherapy, the projective test allows for gathering a lot of information about the client.

Self-Reporting Inventory Tests

The other type of inventory test asks the test-taker to read a list of questions and then state how well the question describes them, a common type of test. The Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) is an example of a self-reporting inventory test, but more on this later. Assessments with greater reliability and validity than projective assessments, the self-reporting tests are easier to administer.

Common Personality Assessments

Many tests used to assess personality are based on some theory on how personalities manifest themselves. The most common personality tests are the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, 16 Personalities, the Big Five, and the Four Type Personalities (Type A, B, C, and D).

Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI)

Katherine Briggs and Isabel Briggs Myers (a mother-daughter team) developed the MBTI in the 1920s, a test based on Carl Jung’s personality type theory. This assessment assigns attributes based on where a person falls among four dichotomies: introversion-extroversion, sensing or intuition, thinking or feeling, and judging or perceiving. When completed, the person being given the assessment is assigned a four-letter personality type.

The assessment evaluates two areas, the first relates to a person’s preferences, and the second makes an overall evaluation of the individual’s personality. The first preference is related to the person’s favorite world, which asks whether the person focuses on the outer or inner world. Based on the response, the person falls somewhere on the introversion (I)-extroversion (E) spectrum.

The second preference relates to how a person processes information. The test looks at whether a person takes in basic information or whether the person takes in information and interprets and adds meaning. The person is then placed on the spectrum between sensing (S) and intuition (I).

The third preference involves finding out whether the person looks at events and scenarios logically and consistently or focuses on the people involved and their circumstances. They are then placed on the thinking (T) or feeling (F).

Finally, the last preference relates to decision-making. Test-takers are asked whether they prefer to get things decided or wait for new information and options. Along the spectrum, they are judging (J) or perceiving (P).

By the end of the test, the person should have collected four letters that give test administrators a glimpse into their personality. In all, the person can be assigned any of the 16 personality types.

In the 1950s, some of the country’s medical schools used the test to help physicians find their specialties. However, today, researchers do not see the MBTI assessment as reliable as other, more modern methods of assessing personality, some questioning the test’s objectivity, questionnaire format, and test score reliability. With that said, the test has been used to support research studies for many years.

Outside of research, the MBTI has uses in business. Fortune 500 companies, in addition to other firms, have used the assessment to hire employees, for team building, leadership development, and conflict prevention. The evaluation also has some uses in determining how romantically compatible a couple might be.

16 Personalities

This assessment type evolved from the MBTI, but unlike the Myers-Briggs assessment, the 16 Personalities assessment is free and can be accessed through the website of the same name. The website does not have any certification and does not provide counseling. Using the four letters that are a part of the Myers-Brigg assessment, 16 Personalities provides four groupings.

The first group is analysts and is comprised of the architect (INTJ), logician (INTP), commander (ENTJ), and debater (ENTP). The second group is diplomats, comprised of advocate (INFJ), mediator (INFP), protagonist (ENFJ), and campaigner (ENFP). The third group is sentinels, comprised of logistician (ISTJ), defender (ISJF), executive (ESTJ), and consul (ESFJ). The final group is explorers, consisting of virtuoso (ISTP), adventurer (ISFP), entrepreneur (ESTP), and entertainer (ESFP).

Notice the letters make up the same letters used in the MBTI assessment. In a nutshell, the 16 Personalities assessment is an informal, simplified version of the test.

Type A, B, C, and D Personalities

The assessment determines personality based on a theory developed in 1976 by Meyer Freidman, MD, and Ray Rosenman, MD—both cardiologists. The two physicians developed two of the four personality types, Type A and Type B. Based on information provided by their patients, the physicians determined whether they were more prone to stress (Type A) or more laid back (Type B), the former making them more prone to cardiac issues. This method of assessment has grown to include four types:

Type A

The people who fall into this category are defined as the director, the overachiever, and the go-getter. Regardless of their designation, this personality type describes people who like to be in control.

Type B

Individuals who fall into this category are socializers and peacemakers who are outgoing and fun to be around. Total opposites of Type A personalities, Type B Personalities can verge on being needy.

Type C

Type C personalities are thinkers or analysts. They are closely related to Type A personalities in that they are usually very accurate, like to control, and pay attention to detail. However, these types rely on rational thought and logic when trying to make sense of the world but can easily become overwhelmed.

Type D 

Of everyone in the spectrum, Type D personality types are most like Type Bs. They are supporters or empathizers who are in touch with their feelings. Described as sensitive and enigmatic, they have issues with having a positive outlook on matters, but when they do experience joy and happiness, they do so more deeply than other personality types. At the same time, they also feel anxious and depressed more intensely as well.

Criminology And Personality Assessments

While personality assessments are used in business, they also play a role in helping those in criminology profile and understand people who are likely to commit certain crimes, the motivations behind why criminals commit crimes, the effect of crime on others, and ways to prevent crime. The discipline of studying criminals and their behavior is more than 200 years old. Today, most higher education institutions, such as Wilfrid Laurier Unviersity offer degrees through face-to-face instruction or online criminology programs which are continuing to grow in popularity. WLU’s course explores the psychology of crime and the assessment of criminal behavior and personality.

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Because criminologists are involved in the aspects of studying criminal behavior, personality assessments are useful. Personality tests used in criminology are MMBT, the Big Five, and the MMPI.


Under the MBTI, some personalities are prone to commit certain crimes. For instance, those who are INTJs are prone to become drug lords, a person who is a mastermind and who learns from their mistakes and takes care to make improvements. INTPs are inclined to get involved with cyberterrorism by becoming adept at programming and wielding this knowledge over those who are less knowledgeable by breaking into the most secure system.

Those prone to devising elaborate schemes usually fall in the ENTJ category. These individuals are familiar with or learn about systems to manipulate their weaknesses and are generally charismatic. ENTPs are prone to commit grand larceny. Described as ingenious, albeit crazy, ENTPs pull some of the greatest robberies. These are just a few of the MBTI assessments used in criminology.

The Big Five

The five-factor model explains personality by looking at how a person falls on the spectrum of five traits. Criminologists use this assessment to make predictions about future behavior.

  • Openness, Intellect, Imagination

This category describes how open an individual is to new ideas. Those with high openness are described as creative, and those with low openness hold onto traditional ideas.

  • Conscientiousness 

People who fall under this category are organized, well-prepared, detail-oriented, and do not procrastinate. Conversely, people who exhibit low conscientiousness are unorganized and prone to messiness but are spontaneous.

  • Extroversion

This group of people enjoys being in social situations and around a lot of people. They usually have a lot of friends and enjoy making them. Alternatively, introverts feel more comfortable alone, are quiet, and feel physically drained when they must socialize.

  • Agreeableness

People who score high in this area care about the people around them. They are cooperative and like helping others. Those on the opposite end of the spectrum are more competitive and not interested in others.

  • Neuroticism, Emotional Instability

Those who score high in neuroticism are prone to mood swings, worry a lot, and experience bouts of being upset. On the other hand, those low in emotional instability handle stress well, do not experience depression as much as those on the opposite end of the spectrum, and spend more time relaxed than worried.


Like the MBTI, the MMPI is a widely used method for assessing personality. The MMPI, however, has been used to make psychological evaluations as a part of criminal investigations. The MMPI comes in two forms—the long form (MMPI-1) and the abridged version (MMPI-2). Developed by a clinical psychologist and a neuropsychiatrist, the test aims at diagnosing mental health disorders.

Most practitioners use the MMPI-2, a self-inventory test comprised of 567 true or false questions. The test is designed to determine whether the test-taker has a mental illness or personality disorder. Typically, it takes anywhere between 60 to 90 minutes to take. There is also an abridged version of the MMPI-2, which comprises only 338 questions and takes 35 to 50 minutes.

Other versions of the test include one for teens between 14 and 18. This test is called the MMPI-A and contains 478 questions, which can be completed within an hour. The abridged version of this test, the MMPI-A-RF, contains 241 questions that can be completed between 25 and 45 minutes.

Final Words

Personality assessments present practitioners with a snapshot of an individual. In business, the test provides businesses with the tools to help individuals work, collaborate, and get along with one another. As a career assessment tool, personality tests guide people who know they want a career but might not know what direction to head in.

Criminology invites practitioners and students to delve into a profession that can take them down many paths, and personality assessment is just one of them. Using the MBTI, the MMPI, and the Big Five, criminologists look at personality traits to make predictions about how likely an individual is to commit a crime, why they might commit crimes, and to profile criminal behavior. These tools are also invaluable in helping practitioners in this field to conclude whether a person had a mental illness or a personality disorder while committing a crime. In terms of their use in the field, while not perfect, they provide practitioners with insight into how personality influences criminal behavior.