Semantics and Psychometrics

Semantics and Psychometric Interpretation

People receiving interpretations of psychometric instruments such as Human Patterns®, and those who administer them are subject to typical semantic errors that distort the utility of the information they receive or offer. This article discusses four such semantic errors and a way to avoid them.

DELETION The most important is DELETION. Since no psychometric instrument can measure every relevant factor, the administrator will interpret the information at hand... the data captured by the instrument. What if the person is driven by or invested in factors that are not measured by the instrument? To vary the "old saw" ---- "If I have a hammer, every job looks like a nail." Defining the limits of what is being measured by an instrument and what is not being measured is an important step in a sound interpretation.

GENERALIZATION The second most egregious endemic interpretation error is GENERALIZATION. In this case the administrator applies one or more factors to aspects of the person's life that do not call for use of the factor. For example, a preference for being emotionally accessible, is irrelevant to an analytic function. Context, (for Human Patterns we call this the "Question") such as roles or functions people adopt, or circumstances they are operating within, can determine whether a factor is called into play. A sound interpretation will apply the factor being measured to functions or roles that correlate with or are intrinsically required to address the "Question" or context.

NOMINALIZATION A third common semantic error is NOMINALIZATION. Many psychometric instruments invite interpreters to convert a configuration of one or more appropriately measured factors into a noun. This results in the person being tested getting assigned a label that vastly oversimplifies the variability in processes that apply and include the factors. When someone says they are an "Eagle" or a "Blue" or a "Pioneer" or an "Artisan" they are offering a nominalization. While both parties to the interpretation may derive some satisfaction and affirmation from these labels, they eliminate the granularity of factors that are measured and can induce the person to adopt the label, rather than address the factors that informed it...thus reducing the potential for change.

DISTORTION A last semantic error is "DISTORTION". While distortion can result from deletions of relevant data from a discussion, or generalizations that exaggerate or underplay the impact of relevant factors, or nominalizations resulting from turning processes into nouns, the tone of distortion sometimes includes an assumption of a choice to ignore or discount these semantic errors and maintain a point of view or perspective despite this awareness. It is sometimes shaped by the natural tendency to operate in a self-interested way when the data at hand does not conform to the interests of the interpreter or the recipients of the interpretation.

THE SOLUTION The solution to semantic errors in psychometric interpretation is to adhere closely to the data at hand; to engage in mutual inquiry and exploration with the person who completed the psychometric instrument to clarify and proportionate a common understanding when differences or confusions arise, and to delight in discovery of insights as factors and their correlations with "QUESTIONS" emerge.


A. Laffoley

Academic Program Director Raleigh- Durham, NC

I used the Human Patterns Inventory in the development program for high potential senior leaders and recommend it as an effective tool as part of any comprehensive employee development program. In my opinion an important differentiator of this tool is the light it shines on the switches that may occur in our behavior when we are in reaction mode (e.g. in a stressful situation). Bringing awareness to where this occurs is invaluable to an individual’s personal development.

K. Jobe

Executive Recruiter Charlotte, North Carolina Area

I have used the Human Patterns as an internal recruiter as well as during client “coaching” engagements. It is the most comprehensive psychometric test that I have ever worked with. I highly recommend this tool to any organization that is committed to talent optimization.

F. Christian

Managing Director Chicago, IL

Human Patterns is a rare exception among assessment tools. Most are simplistic and slipshod, more mirrors of their creators' craniums than windows into one's own. Human Patterns has a richness that allows me to start meaningful conversations with the hidden high potentials I work with, who after years of severe underemployment have lost sight of themselves and their unique ways of working with the world. I'm so enthusiastic I now require it for new clients to shortcut to solutions.