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Real-World Research: Psychology Students Team Up With Their Professor

UMD student Jordan Carlson and Assistant Professor Christophrer Lake
Senior Jordan Carlson, who is double majoring in psychology and Hispanic studies, has worked with Assistant Professor Christopher Lake for the past two years on his Myers-Briggs research project.

“It’s really nice to have two very motivated students working on this project with me. They’ve both made strong contributions to the project." - Assistant Professor Christopher Lake, UMD Department of Psychology

UMD alumna Alexandra Rose
The third research team member, senior Alexandra Rose, is majoring in psychology with a minor in organizational management.


Assistant Professor Christopher Lake, in UMD’s Department of Psychology, is quick to admit that he wouldn't be as far along on his research project, if two enthusiastic students hadn’t asked how they could get involved.

Jordan Carlson, a senior with a double major in psychology and Hispanic studies, came to the project about two years ago. “I was taking Chris’ Psychological Statistics class. He mentioned his project in class one day. I asked him if I could help out. I had no research experience, but I was interested in the fact that he said the test was popular but not reliable. I wanted to learn more about it,” Jordan said.

Chris’ research is on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), a personality test that is extremely popular with human resources (HR) professionals. “It’s used by a large majority of Fortune 500 companies and the U.S. government,” he said. Chris found it intriguing that the MBTI has so many fans when he discovered that many industrial and organizational (I-O) psychologists have concerns about the test’s format, reliability, and validity. Chris wanted to understand this disparity better.

Alexandra “Lexa” Rose was in the same class with Jordan. “I transferred to UMD after my freshman year at Winona State. I decided to come to UMD because they offer many awesome opportunities, such as being able to do research with a professor. I was interested in I-O psychology and wanted to get more hands-on experience,” she said. Lexa, a senior majoring in psychology in the industrial-organizational track with a minor in organizational management, also asked Chris if she could get involved with his research and soon he had a team.

Both Jordan and Alexandra proved to be indispensable on this project, and Chris praises their work. “It’s really nice to have two very motivated students working on this project with me. They’ve both made strong contributions to the project,” he said.

Diving In
The first thing the students did was an in-depth literature search. “We went through hundreds of old articles,” Jordan said. “We identified what people said they liked about the MBTI test and what people said they didn’t like.”

Next the team developed an online survey. They compiled an email list of 998 individuals using online directories of HR professionals and I-O psychologists. Then they sent the survey out.

After the results came back, the team compiled the data. They discovered that HR professionals placed significant trust in the MBTI and, rather than focusing on scientific quality, they considered nonscientific qualities (popularity, simplicity) when selecting personality tests. 

“What surprised me was that people in HR said that they prefer a test that is valid and reliable and not too expensive, but they thought MBTI is a good option. People don’t know its not good,” Jordan stated.

Chris, Jordan, and Lexa want to correct that. “We want to get the word out that the MBTI is not that reliable and that there are better alternatives.” Chris said. While name recognition and heavy marketing have helped to establish the MBTI as the personality test for many organizations, Chris intends “to spread the message” to HR professionals “that their perception of MBTI is out of sync with psychologists.”

The team presented their findings at the UMD Twin Ports Undergraduate Psychology (TPUP) conference. They have submitted a paper for possible publication. In November, Chris and Lexa will present their findings to the Society for Judgment and Decision Making conference, an interdisciplinary group consisting of psychologists, human resource professionals, and business people.

Going Forward
Jordan is working on a Capstone Honors Project as a requirement of the UMD Honors Program. I will be focusing my project on the Myers-Briggs as a follow-up study based on our initial study. I am looking into the Big 5 personality tests and finding out what people like and dislike about the Big 5. Then I will use the information we gathered about the MBTI (pros and cons) and create some sort of test that combines the two and see what peoples' reactions are. It might be as simple as putting the MBTI logo on a Big 5 inventory and seeing if people give more positive feedback because of it.

Next semester, Jordan will be studying abroad in Costa Rica and graduating in December 2015. Her strong research experience will enhance her graduate school applications as she pursues advanced studies in I-O psychology.

Lexa, who will also graduate in December 2015, is developing a UROP (Undergraduate Research Opportunity Project) this summer. Though I will be basing my research off the MBTI work, I haven't settled on a topic for my UROP quite yet. My goal is to research other tests that HR professionals might be using that aren't as valid or reliable that they think they are,” she said.

Recently, Lexa accepted a full-time position with Assessment Associates International in Minnetonka, Minn. “Now that I have a position with an I-O consulting firm, I will be asking for their opinions of interesting and relevant topics,” she reported.

Both students have thoroughly enjoyed working on the MBTI project. For Lexa, “the most interesting part of the project was getting involved in the research from the very beginning to the very end. Typically students commit to doing research for maybe one or two semesters. Chris, Jordan, and I were able to work together for almost two years – including summers. It was a great experience being able to get involved in every piece of the project,” Lexa said.


For more information about UMD's psychology major, visit the College of Education and Human Service Professions website.


Written by Kathleen McQuillan-Hofmann June 2015.


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Cheryl Reitan, creitan@d.umn.edu


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