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True lies: the dishonesty of honesty tests.

"Honesty is the best policy - when there is money in it."

- Mark Twain

Now that Congress has declared polygraphic pol·y·graph  
An instrument that simultaneously records changes in physiological processes such as heartbeat, blood pressure, and respiration, often used as a lie detector.

 lie detection unlawful in many situations, test developers are promoting new self-report paper-and-pencil "honesty" or "integrity" tests. These represent efforts by polygraph An instrument used to measure physiological responses in humans when they are questioned in order to determine if their answers are truthful.

Also known as a "lie detector," the polygraph has a controversial history in U.S. law.
 firms, sometimes in concert with the psychologists they hire, to retain their market share of the nation's integrity industry.

Recent reports indicate that about 7,500 to 10,000 businesses, schools, agencies, and other settings use these tests for hiring, firing, "periodic honesty checks," and determining "deception" or "honesty," touching about 9 million to 12 million people annually. Like their polygraphic predecessors, honesty tests are ubiquitous, showing up in employment settings, criminal investigations, and even in education.

Without disputing the need of businesses and agencies to safeguard against theft, unproductivity, sloth sloth (slōth, slôth), arboreal mammal found in Central and South America distantly related to armadillos and anteaters. Sloths live in tropical forests, where they sleep, eat, and travel through the trees suspended upside down, clinging to , fraud, or other misconduct, the following four questions about these latter-day lie detectors can be raised. First, is the integrity industry honest in its claims? Second, do honesty tests work - that is, do they pass psychometric psy·cho·met·rics  
n. (used with a sing. verb)
The branch of psychology that deals with the design, administration, and interpretation of quantitative tests for the measurement of psychological variables such as intelligence, aptitude, and
 and scientific muster according to according to
1. As stated or indicated by; on the authority of: according to historians.

2. In keeping with: according to instructions.

 the American Psychological Association's Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing The Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing is a set of testing standards developed jointly by the American Educational Research Association (AERA), American Psychological Association (APA), and the National Council on Measurement in Education (NCME). ? Third, if not, why not? And fourth, what can be done to strengthen or outlaw them?

Dishonest Promotional and Procedural Tactics

It has become apparent over the last several years that the integrity industry is less than elated about having its bread-and-butter product studied scientifically. As a result, it is guarded and deeply defensive about anyone probing into its business. I, myself, have been subjected to constant and thinly veiled threats of legal action if I continue to expose the industry's staple moneymaker. More generally, scientific evaluations have been met with staunch resistance by the integrity industry.

When the scrutiny began in 1990, for instance, due to concerns raised by the APA (All Points Addressable) Refers to an array (bitmapped screen, matrix, etc.) in which all bits or cells can be individually manipulated.

APA - Application Portability Architecture
 and the U.S. Congress' Office of Technology Assessment, the industry managed to have at least one distinguished psychological test expert (and perhaps more) removed from the APA task force on the grounds that he had voiced and written what the industry argued were "biased" accounts of honesty tests. The industry also created an in-house protectionist organization, the Association of Personnel Test Publishers, nominally established to oversee its members' activities. But its "Model Guidelines for Pre-employment Integrity Testing Integrity Testing, is a name given to the Non destructive testing of piled foundations. It was used or started back in the late 1960's and has developed over the years by many companies In Europe CEBTP in Asia and Australia by Integrity Testing, and USA by GRL.  Programs" contained no enforcement provisions; hence (and predictably), the wolf assigned to shepherd the sheep ate them instead, meaning that the authors of the "Model Guidelines" usually looked the other way when their model was not being observed. The APTP APTP Association of Part-Time Professionals
APTP Audio Patching and Termination Panel (AN/SSQ-88) 
 also signaled its intention to conduct "business as usual" by vigorously defending its members' tests. This is hardly the way an honest science - in this case, psychometric science - advances, particularly given the modest evidence for its soundness. In the scientific community, the falsifiability Falsifiability (or refutability or testability) is the logical possibility that an assertion can be shown false by an observation or a physical experiment. That something is "falsifiable" does not mean it is false; rather, it means that it is capable of being  of a hypothesis or theory, and not its marketability, is the litmus test litmus test
A test for chemical acidity or basicity using litmus paper.
 of a theory's robustness. But as a brief examination of the industry's promotional and procedural tactics will illustrate, it is market forces, not scientific viability, that are driving honesty testing.

Promotional Tactics. Though the APA's Ethical Principles of Psychologists clearly states that psychologists are to help the public make informed judgments and choices about tests, and that psychologists must base their statements on scientifically acceptable findings and techniques with full recognition of the limits and uncertainties of such evidence, the integrity industry has constantly flouted these precepts in its promotional tactics. For instance, a recent flyer mailed to corporate executives and bank presidents in the Chicago area (and probably nationwide) brazenly encouraged the use of honesty tests as an alternative to polygraphs. To drive home its point, the flyers cited such alarming statistics as: "More than 26 percent of workers in manufacturing facilities, 32 percent of hospital personnel and nearly 42 percent of retail workers admitted to being dishonest on the job." (The emphasis on the word admitted is intentional for, as I will argue later, to acknowledge theft in these circumstances may well be more honest than to disavow TO DISAVOW. To deny the authority by which an agent pretends to have acted as when he has exceeded the bounds of his authority.
     2. It is the duty of the principal to fulfill the contracts which have been entered into by his authorized agent; and when an agent
 it.) The flyer then invoked federal law-enforcement authority to make its point: "The FBI estimates that businesses lose between $40 billion to $200 billion a year because of internal loss." These numbers and scare tactics For the political strategy, see Tactical politics
Scare Tactics is a reality show on the Sci-Fi Channel which began airing April 2003. It last aired on January 1, 2006. It is produced by Hallock & Healey Entertainment. In Canada, it is broadcast on Razer.
 are blatant attempts to sell the industry's tool rather than to inform prospective users of its scientific merits and possible limitations.

Furthermore, and more outlandishly, a test manual

I reviewed some years ago cites an (appalling) honesty test as giving employers "a great feeling when . . . [they] know they've hired an honest, dependable employee . . . [with their] Paper and Pencil Honesty test . . . developed by a professional . . . M.A., M.S.D.D., A.C.P., C.P.P. . . . noted criminologist and polygraph expert. They are better than sleuths hired to do the same job." Again, this laughable characterization is an irresponsible promotion that smacks of greed, not honesty.

Should prospective users still remain unconvinced of the honesty test's validity, they can find comfort in these testimonials, printed in the manual, of satisfied users at TeleCheck ("the employees we have hired since . . . {using this test} are fantastic"), Radio Shack See RadioShack.  ("I anticipate acquiring a minimum total of 10,000 each over a 12-month period"), and numerous other prominent food and sporting-goods chains around the country. The test manual goes on to claim that the test "is psychologically validated . . . does not violate EEOC EEOC
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

EEOC n abbr (US) (= Equal Employment Opportunities Commission) → comisión que investiga discriminación racial o sexual en el empleo
 hiring standards . . . [has the approval of] a staff psychologist from Brigham Young University Brigham Young University, at Provo, Utah; Latter-Day Saints; coeducational; opened as an academy in 1875 and became a university in 1903. It is noted for its law and business schools.  . . . and gives you . . . complete satisfaction." (Incidentally, I reviewed this test in the. Tenth Mental Measurements Yearbook - psychological testing's holy writ - and received several APTP letters threatening legal action if I did not apologize in print and retract TO RETRACT. To withdraw a proposition or offer before it has been accepted.
     2. This the party making it has a right to do is long as it has not been accepted; for no principle of law or equity can, under these circumstances, require him to persevere in it.
 my review. Fortunately, the University of Illinois' legal counselor suggested that the APTP quit harassing one of its professors or else. Since I don't speak legalese legalese - Dense, pedantic verbiage in a language description, product specification, or interface standard; text that seems designed to obfuscate and requires a language lawyer to parse it. , I understand neither the APTP's threats nor the university's response to them.)

This unbelievable hodgepodge of unscientific unscientific Unproven, see there  silliness continues to be disseminated in the test manuals of several main, stream integrity-testing firms and has led the APA task force even absent its ousted critic - to state that "promotional claims for honesty tests, as perhaps for most other procedures for pre-employment screening, vary from the circumspect cir·cum·spect  
Heedful of circumstances and potential consequences; prudent.

[Middle English, from Latin circumspectus, past participle of circumspicere, to take heed :
 to the fraudulent. We have seen a number of promotional brochures that are so clearly excessive and overblown o·ver·blown  
Past participle of overblow.

a. Done to excess; overdone: overblown decorations.

 as to make a test expert cringe in embarrassment."

Procedural Problems. In addition to its preposterous claims, the integrity industry's procedural tactics are equally suspect. For instance, good psychological practice always dictates that psychologists (not their clerical surrogates) communicate psychological test results to examinees. Nonetheless, it is common practice in the industry to delegate this to others with no training in the interpretation of tests. Therefore, "hire" or "do not hire" (or "fire" or "do not fire") decisions are often rendered by untrained workers. Worse yet, these are often made "blindly," the equivalent of diagnosing someone without seeing them, which is an ethical "no-no" in psychological testing psychological testing

Use of tests to measure skill, knowledge, intelligence, capacities, or aptitudes and to make predictions about performance. Best known is the IQ test; other tests include achievement tests—designed to evaluate a student's grade or performance
. (Automated personality-test interpretations also fall into this category but are properly the topic of another article.)

The Scientific Bases of Honesty Tests

But these promotional and procedural concerns, though serious, are dwarfed by the scientific concerns. Honesty testing has three main scientific problems: (1) the nonspecificity of the "honesty" or "integrity" construct; (2) the flawed logic of assessing honesty; and (3) unacceptably high false-positive and false-negative error rates. These are interrelated in·ter·re·late  
tr. & intr.v. in·ter·re·lat·ed, in·ter·re·lat·ing, in·ter·re·lates
To place in or come into mutual relationship.

 difficulties, as we shall see.

Honesty's Nonspecificity. Exactly what are we testing for when we measure "honesty" or "integrity"? Upon this point, confusion reigns. Sometimes a test's stated purpose is to predict theft (or an inclination to steal) from the workplace; at other times, it claims to measure productivity, dependability, capacity for violence, or recreational drug use Recreational drug use is the use of psychoactive drugs for recreational purposes rather than for work, medical or spiritual purposes, although the distinction is not always clear.  during or after work; and at still other times it is presumably pre·sum·a·ble  
That can be presumed or taken for granted; reasonable as a supposition: presumable causes of the disaster.
 a measure of reliability or even marital success. The APA task force's confusion in this regard is worth noting: "Because these tests are so heterogeneous in focus and content . . . it is not possible to assess their . . . validity."

Even if these various purposes were to be limited to the tests' broad intent to assess honesty and integrity, however - and assuming that the industry can vaguely define these con, structs - there still remains the problem of the situation, specificity of honesty. That is, going back to research in the 1920s and 1930s, as well as in more recent findings in the last 40 years, ample evidence has shown the lack of cross-situational consistency in traits such as honesty, cheating, punctuality Punctuality
Fogg, Phileas

completes world circuit at exact minute he wagered he would. [Fr. Lit.: Around the World in Eighty Days]


disciplined family brought up to abide by strict, punctual standards. [Am. Lit.
, conformity, and attitude toward authority, to name just a few of these elusive constructs. Thus, one might cheat in filling out income-tax forms, for instance, yet not steal company stationery for personal use or stamps, pens, paper, paper-clips, or other office equipment. Or one might conscientiously observe the precepts of church and state but may defraud business associates or other innocents. It seems safe to say, therefore, that human beings are complex entities who defy easy defining.

The Logic of Honesty Testing. Whereas polygraphic lie detection rests on the flawed premise that emotionality discloses lying (a premise refuted by me and others in articles appearing in Nature, Harvard Business Review Harvard Business Review is a general management magazine published since 1922 by Harvard Business School Publishing, owned by the Harvard Business School. A monthly research-based magazine written for business practitioners, it claims a high ranking business readership and , and American Psychologist), honesty testing assumes that admitting to past sins predicts sinfulness. Such logic rests on the flawed assumption that honest admissions of past transgressions imply deception and hence untrustworthiness.

The areas of integrity these tests assess include thoughts about theft ("Have you considered stealing from your parent, siblings, or company?"), knowledge of theft ("Do you know anyone who has stolen anything?"), and perceptions about the extent and frequency of theft in our society ("What percent of the population steals more than $10 in a month?"). These tests also elicit admission of theft ("Have you ever stolen more than $5 worth of anything?"), forgery ("Have you ever falsely signed a friend's name on an official document?"), and even rationalizations about theft or forgery (for example, "someone who treats others poorly encourages dishonesty").

In addition, examinees are invited to express their punitiveness toward dishonest people ("Should a long-service, trusted cashier be fired and imprisoned im·pris·on  
tr.v. im·pris·oned, im·pris·on·ing, im·pris·ons
To put in or as if in prison; confine.

[Middle English emprisonen, from Old French emprisoner : en-
 if one day he is caught stealing a small sum of money?"), and opinions about a variety of other misdeeds, including attitudes toward violent people, drug use, and cheating, to name just a few.

Most questionnaires suggest truthfulness is the best policy in responding to these questions and instruct examinees that there are no "right" or "wrong" answers. Although these assurances are an improvement over the industry's earlier caveat ("Be truthful, your answers are subject to verification by polygraphic examination"), both instructions are a lie. Truthful admissions to any of these items can disqualify To deprive of eligibility or render unfit; to disable or incapacitate.

To be disqualified is to be stripped of legal capacity. A wife would be disqualified as a juror in her husband's trial for murder due to the nature of their relationship.
 individuals from obtaining gainful gain·ful  
Providing a gain; profitable: gainful employment.

gainful·ly adv.
 employment requiring responsibility and can label and stigmatize stig·ma·tize  
tr.v. stig·ma·tized, stig·ma·tiz·ing, stig·ma·tiz·es
1. To characterize or brand as disgraceful or ignominious.

2. To mark with stigmata or a stigma.

 them for life as untrustworthy. And of course, the test does count right and wrong answers, with great emphasis upon the latter.

The rationale for this form of questioning is as simple as it is simplistic sim·plism  
The tendency to oversimplify an issue or a problem by ignoring complexities or complications.

[French simplisme, from simple, simple, from Old French; see simple
. To wit: someone who admits to theft or dishonesty, or has contemplated theft or dishonesty, or has knowledge of same without disclosing the transgressor, or has a lenient attitude toward scofflaws is dishonest and irresponsible. This is quite an inferential in·fer·en·tial  
1. Of, relating to, or involving inference.

2. Derived or capable of being derived by inference.

 leap, using a logic that is as mind-boggling as it is paradoxical. For instance, admissions to any of these questions may very well be a sign of honesty, not its opposite. To assume such persons to be deceptive, in other words Adv. 1. in other words - otherwise stated; "in other words, we are broke"
put differently
, is a crude form of logic and inaccurate besides, as the following case demonstrates.

In his superb book A Tremor in the Blood: Uses and Abuses of the Lie Detector, University of Minnesota (body, education) University of Minnesota - The home of Gopher.

Address: Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA.
 psychologist David T. Lykken David Thoreson Lykken (June 18 1928 - September 15 2006) was a behavioral geneticist and Professor Emeritus of Psychology and Psychiatry at the University of Minnesota. He is best known for his work on twin studies.  relates the tale of a nun, Sister Terressa, who was denied employment with B. Dalton Booksellers after having "failed" an honesty test. She had been rejected for a part-time job (the pay was to go to her Order) with the Minneapolis branch of the store because - or so she was told - she had the lowest score on an honesty test ever seen.

As it turns out, she had made a serious error of testing judgment, although one not uncommon for straight-arrow types in our society. She told the truth - that is, she admitted to past misbehaviors and displayed a streak of Christian charity toward those who transgress, thus not conforming to the integrity industry's standards of honesty (not published normative data, by any means) and its expected punitive stance toward those who err. Ironically, therefore, the industry, by its inflexible position, inadvertently encourages people to lie on its tests for, as it turns out, only "liars" can pass them. (Sister Terressa later appeared before the Minnesota Supreme Court The Minnesota Supreme Court is the highest court in the U.S. state of Minnesota and consists of seven members. The court was first assembled as a three-judge panel in 1849 when Minnesota was still a territory.  with her case, which resulted in the outlawing of many devices that purport to detect lying.)

The Scientific Soundness of Honesty Tests. An issue that refuses to go away is honesty testing's lack of supporting or validating scientific evidence. As in the case of their various lie.detection predecessors, honesty tests generate mainly two types of errors: false positives and false negatives. False positives are honest people falsely labeled dishonest on the basis of test results, as in the case of Sister Terressa; false negatives are dishonest people labeled honest due to their "passing" test results.

Both types of error point to the test's lack of validity, an issue that strikes to the very core of a test's scientific and psychometric excellence. It informs us of a test's reliability in measuring its purported concept - in this case, honesty or integrity. It is precisely because of these errors, in particular the first kind - false positives - that polygraphic interrogation interrogation

In criminal law, process of formally and systematically questioning a suspect in order to elicit incriminating responses. The process is largely outside the governance of law, though in the U.S.
 was rendered unlawful in most settings. The same is true of honesty testing. It is therefore a useless (and expensive) exercise that always favors, to use a gambling casino analogy, "the house."

Some facts and figures in this regard may be illuminating. Honesty testing's false-positive error rates - that is, the rate of incorrectly identifying honest persons as dishonest - range between an average of 73 percent and 97 percent, according to the APA's and OTA's 1990 reports (thus underperforming the polygraph's average error rate of about 50 percent, as calculated by myself and others who have conducted scientific reviews of the field). The instances of false-negative errors - that is, dishonest people who "pass" the test - are no better, hovering around 58 percent, according to the same reviews. These false-negative misclassifications far exceed the polygraph's deplorable 33 percent false-negative performance. (Evidently, some people find it difficult to "fail" an honesty test because their test-taking attitude seems to be that they see no evil, commit no evil, and are properly punitive toward those who do, thus precisely conforming to the integrity industry's expectations and criteria of honesty.)

Yet another problem with the validity of honesty tests is that much of the evidence cited in their behalf is based on their high correlations with polygraphs. The reasoning of honesty testers seems to be that, if two flawed techniques are highly correlated with one another, then the accuracy of both is enhanced. This form of logic, often cynically (perhaps naively) advocated in the industry, is no doubt related to the mathematical truism that the multiplication or division of negatives yields positives.

The APA task force's conclusion regarding these tests' validity is also noteworthy: "For some published measures, almost no evidence at all is available beyond assurances that evidence exists. For a few measures, extensive research has been completed. Even in the latter cases, however, test publishers have relied on the cloak of proprietary interests to withhold information concerning the development and scoring of the tests, along with other psychometric information." In other words, the industry's attitude is: "Don't bother to investigate us; our product is private property, and we will protect it as such." While this may be defensible in the marketplace, it is hardly acceptable for an alleged scientific tool that may be an invasion of privacy invasion of privacy n. the intrusion into the personal life of another, without just cause, which can give the person whose privacy has been invaded a right to bring a lawsuit for damages against the person or entity that intruded.  and is capable of doing considerable personal injury.

What can be done?

Having come full circle to the question raised at the beginning of this article - "Is the honesty-testing industry honest?" (surely it is not) - I offer now the following eight recommendations:

1. If testing is to be used, provide more leniency le·ni·en·cy  
n. pl. le·ni·en·cies
1. The condition or quality of being lenient. See Synonyms at mercy.

2. A lenient act.

Noun 1.
 in the scoring so that the industry's "one-strike-and-you're-out" mentality is attenuated Attenuated
Alive but weakened; an attenuated microorganism can no longer produce disease.

Mentioned in: Tuberculin Skin Test


having undergone a process of attenuation.

2. Given that honesty tests foster many more false-positive and false-negative errors than polygraphic lie detection, the industry might consider adjusting the norms (if any) so that the false-positive errors are reduced substantially. This would require psychometric adjustments such as collecting empirical validating data in the general population, thus not limiting the data analysis just to those who may have been "caught" cheating, lying, or misbehaving.

3. Furthermore, research conducted primarily by honesty-test publishers needs to be monitored carefully by the psychological community so as to preclude the biased research and irresponsible promotional practices of rogue (and APTP) operations. This can be accomplished by having APA (or the U.S. government and state courts) declare all "honesty testing" as being under its purview The part of a statute or a law that delineates its purpose and scope.

Purview refers to the enacting part of a statute. It generally begins with the words be it enacted and continues as far as the repealing clause.
. This was carried out successfully in the case of polygraphic lie detection and, to a large extent, "cleaned up" (or eliminated) both rogue operations and the biased research and advertising of the industry.

4. Likewise, to ensure enforcement of the foregoing, the psychological professions must step in forcefully and call for scientific studies of this new generation of lie detectors, as well as hold them accountable, both legally and ethically.

5. Potential or actual users of these tests should evaluate whether they are truly better or worse off with or without their use. This may require careful record-keeping and impartial outside statistical consultation designed to ascertain the cost-benefit trade-offs.

6. During the interim period of confusion and sparse available solid research and validating data, users may want to resort to several time-honored nontest methods that are perhaps more valuable than honesty testing. For example, they might want to conduct careful background checks of examinees, including verifying resume data and prior performance records.

7. Prospective and current users might also consider consulting security and auditing firms that specialize in installing and implementing standard procedures to preclude dishonest practices.

8. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, prospective test users might want to consider another alternative: to be as forthright in their dealings with people as possible and, in the employment or educational setting, to reward honesty and punish (or withhold rewards for) dishonesty. The use of honesty tests clearly reverses this practice and therefore is the ultimate exercise of dishonesty. Besides, there is much inherent honesty in folks, and these tests, among their many other faults, sow mistrust and breach our civil liberties.

Benjamin Kleinmuntz is a professor of psychology at the University of Illinois at Chicago This article is about the University of Illinois at Chicago. For other uses, see University of Illinois at Chicago (disambiguation).

UIC participates in NCAA Division I Horizon League competition as the UIC Flames in several sports, most notably Basketball.
 and has disputed the claims and uses of polygraphs in Nature, Harvard Business Review, American Psychologist, the Journal of the American Medical Association JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association is an international peer-reviewed general medical journal, published 48 times per year by the American Medical Association. JAMA is the most widely circulated medical journal in the world. , and, ironically (due to a misreading MISREADING, contracts. When a deed is read falsely to an illiterate or blind man, who is a party to it, such false reading amounts to a fraud, because the contract never had the assent of both parties. 5 Co. 19; 6 East, R. 309; Dane's Ab. c. 86, a, 3, Sec. 7; 2 John. R. 404; 12 John. R.  by an editor), in Polygraph. His research in this area was supported by the National Science Foundation, and he is currently researching the uses and misuses of honesty tests.
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Author:Kleinmuntz, benjamin
Publication:The Humanist
Date:Jul 1, 1995
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