Bloggers have discovered that the Department for Work and Pensions is using an obviously defective personality test in a bid to get jobseekers off the dole and into work.
The psychometric test in question is supposedly designed to assess an unemployed person’s “signature strengths”. However, it was actually primed to give nothing but positive statements regarding the user's employability, regardless of whether any information was input at all.
Apparently inspired by the writings of Martin Seligman - the prof whose work in torturing dogs with electric shocks later influenced development of American "enhanced interrogation techniques" such as waterboarding in the War On Terror - the DWP's new test was initially used to assess the personalities of dole claimants in Loughton, Essex. Now, however, it appears to be being used across the country.
The programme was created by the government's Behavioural Insights Team (also known as the "nudge unit") - a shadowy and ever-so-slightly ludicrous Cabinet Office department which uses behavioural economics and psychological techniques to create a supposedly better society.
Rather than getting people to do what the government would like them to do by way of raising taxes, imposing threats of prison and withholding state support, citizens must be nudged into taking the "right" action, the unit suggests.
Pseudonymous socialist blogger Skwawkbox discovered the faulty test, which tells those taking it that they're great employment material no matter what answers they input (this includes not inputting any answers at all). He blogs against the government's welfare reforms and described the test as “sinister psychological bullying", and indeed went as far as using a pic of an individual being waterboarded to show the torture being inflicted on the jobless.
[The test] is being used as a tool to manipulate and intimidate terrified benefit-claimants, with the result that many could lose benefits simply for not being computer-literate, or even literate at all. That this is being done in a context of claimants committing suicide because of the fear of losing their benefits is utterly immoral.
The personality pop quiz works by asking people to rate a series of statements on a scale of 1 to 5. These include cheery lines such as:
- “I am rarely as excited about the good fortune of others as I am about my own”
- “When the topic calls for it, I can be a highly rational thinker"
- “I have not created anything of beauty in the last year”
It then provides a meaningless summary of the character traits indicated by the answers.
If you click through without answering a single question, as Skwawkbox did, the system still praises your “love of learning, curiosity and originality” and your apparent capacity for “critical thinking”.
El Reg took the test and deliberately chose the most negative answers. This should have painted a picture of a sociopathic layabout who is violently opposed to work, totally devoid of intellect and incapable of treating other people with anything but venomous contempt.
Having done our best to screw up, the test said our answers revealed the following strengths:
Strength 1. Perspective. Although you may not think of yourself as wise, your friends hold this view of you. They value your advice on matters. You have a way of looking at the world that makes sense to others and to yourself.
Strength 2. Kindness. You are kind and generous to others, and you are never too busy to do a favour. You enjoy doing good deeds for others, even if you do not know them well.
Strength 3. Gratitude. You are aware of the good things that happen to you, and you never take them for granted. Your friends and family members know that you are a grateful person because you always take the time to express your thanks.
Clicking straight through without answering a single question gave a similar set of responses.
Although the DWP said the test had only been used in Essex, The Register has seen a letter to a jobseeker in Middlesbrough, telling them to complete the questionnaire and try to make use of the "signature strengths" it highlighted in the search for employment (perhaps by cutting and pasting them into application forms?)
“Failure to comply with this direction may result in loss of benefit,” the letter warned. It linked to the questionnaire, which is hosted on a website called The Behaviour Library that now contains no other content.
The results of the test should be taken to the nearest JobCentre Plus for discussion with advisors, the DWP's letter continued.
Apparently the questions were “scientifically shown to find people’s strengths”, with a reference to Seligman’s book Character Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification.
Since The Register phoned the Department of Work and Pensions for a comment, the test appears to have been fixed up a bit in that you can no longer simply click through and get results without answering any questions.
The department's spokesperson said:
"Jobseekers were asked to use the website as part of a trial aimed at improving the support given to them by Jobcentres. It is an evidence-based test, which has been shown to improve their chances of getting into work.” ®