Technology and the future of testing

Psychology is changing. The way we conduct evaluations, administer tests, and the way we provide treatment are all undergoing change. Technological advances in neurology, physiology, and genetics have changed our ability to evaluate, treat, do research, and teach about the field of psychology. More to the point, how we administer psychological tests has been greatly affected by technology. Computers have taken on an expanded role in administration, scoring, and interpretation of psychological tests. They also help us reach more people—people who might not otherwise receive the services they need. These all sound good, but there are cautions about the changes that will be required. In this unit, we will discuss technology and the future of testing; and both positive and negative aspects will be addressed.




What Technology Means


The first paragraph began with a list of some technological advances that are affecting, and will continue to affect, psychology. To give you a better idea of what we mean by technology, we can look at cognitive-behavioral assessment. Cognitive-behavioral assessments are based on principles of behavior modification. Exhibited behaviors are not only symptoms of an underlying problem, as traditional assessments see them. In cognitive-behavioral assessment, the behaviors are the problem. For example, if a person shows anxiety, the anxiety is treated. However, anxiety can cause, or be caused by, many physiological symptoms (such as high blood pressure or muscle tension). This is where cognitive-behavioral assessment has opened up the area of testing and treatment. Through technology, biofeedback instruments have been developed that can measure the body’s response to stimuli. This can be measured and then treated. More accurate biofeedback instruments continue to be developed as we learn more about psychophysiology, the relationship between psychological and physiological processes. Computers have made it possible to measure, evaluate, and treat individuals using these and similar techniques.


Computers, the Internet, and Testing


Psychological testing increasingly makes use of computers and the Internet. Computers have been a great help in understanding the mathematical and logical models of psychometric theories used in the development of tests, and of their psychometric properties. Computers allow us to get more done and eliminate scoring errors. In addition, we are better able to reduce test bias. The Internet allows us to reach people who otherwise would not receive services, as well as administer larger numbers of surveys, questionnaires, and other online tests. These strengths can certainly benefit many people, but testing is more than just entering data. Computerized testing also eliminates our ability to observe test behavior, and it can even create test anxiety in people who are not familiar with computers. There are also ethical and legal issues which must be considered. These are addressed in your textbook.


Testing on the Internet is often less expensive, and publishers can more easily revise an Internet test than a traditional hard-copy test. Test administrators can find tests of any kind and evaluate their quality much more quickly. As technology becomes more advanced, so does psychological practice. Throughout this course, we have mentioned the relationship between psychological testing and areas such as neurology, chemistry, and genetics. Computers play a large role in all of these, and that role will continue to grow. They help run clinical practices more efficiently, and have changed the possibilities in psychological testing. However, there are strengths and weaknesses to everything, and we must be aware of them. Technology can do quite a bit, but it is not a panacea.


Continuing Toward the Future or Back to the Future? Trends in Psychological Testing


The following will continue to be important trends:


Testing instruments continue to become more precise, so testing in the school setting will become more sophisticated and realistic as the relationship between teaching and learning becomes better understood.

Greater use of technology will increase our accountability. It can be safely assumed that the use of technology will increase in the development, administration, scoring, and interpretation of psychological tests.

Technology will also continue to improve the reporting of results, which will be woven into people’s overall treatments, along with the reports of other specialties.

Technological advances will continue to raise questions and concerns about the effect of computerized testing. For example, relationships have always been important in therapy. While testing is not therapy, our interactions with the people we test can affect their performance. For example, when testing children, we can do much to reduce test anxiety and increase motivation prior to starting a test. Whether that might be done, or even need to be done, for people participating in online testing is another question.

Psychological testing will change, not only with technology, but also with social and legal changes. However, technology will not change everything we do in the future. We must always use tests and the information they provide professionally and ethically; just as we do today.




To successfully complete this learning unit, you will be expected to: Identify the differences between cognitive-behavioral assessment and traditional assessment procedures.

Analyze the impact that computers and other technological advances have had on the development, administration, uses, techniques, and applications of psychological testing.


Read the following in your Psychological Testing: Principles, Applications, and Issues text:


Chapter 15 “Computers and Basic Psychological Science in Testing,” pages 411–440.

Chapter 21 “Ethics and the Future of Psychological Testing,” pages 609–628.

Read the following from the Capella Library:


Scheu, I. E., & Lawrence, T. (2013). Considerations of translating psychological tests into digital mediums: A case study. Journal of Educational Computing Research, 49(2), 133–154.

Nicholson, I, R. (2011). New technology, old issues: Demonstrating the relevance of the Canadian Code of Ethics for Psychologists to the ever-sharper cutting edge of technology. Canadian Psychology, 52(3), 215–224.

Access the American Psychological Association’s Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct in preparation for the second discussion in this unit, Technological Advancements and Ethical Dilemmas.


This is a two part paper:


(1)Cognitive-Behavioral Assessment and Treatment

Imagine you are a cognitive-behavioral therapist at a university counseling center. Your first appointment is with Lisa. You only have a few minutes to review the case summary and you need to look over the critical events journal you asked Lisa to keep. After reading the case summary and journal you will respond to these related questions.


Describe differences between:

A traditional approach to assessment and a cognitive-behavioral assessment approach.

A traditional approach to treatment and a cognitive-behavioral treatment approach.

As a cognitive-behavioral therapist, how will you conceptualize Lisa’s presenting problem? (Remember, cognitive-behavioral assessment approaches view situation-specific behavioral excesses or deficits as the focus of treatment rather than as a symptom of an underlying problem. While her low self-esteem is a factor, it is Lisa’s thoughts and behaviors that are the main focus.)

By analyzing the Lisa’s thoughts and self-statements preceding the problematic behavior in her critical events journal:

What patterns or themes can you find?

What seem to be risk factors or triggers for the occurrence of the problematic behavior or critical event?

Identify any patterns or themes in the circumstances or thoughts that follow the problematic behavior or critical event.

Based on your assessment, what seems to maintain or reinforce the problematic behavior or critical event?

Describe at least one cognitive-behavioral intervention that follows directly from your assessment of Lisa. How will you measure whether the intervention was successful?


(2)Technological Advancements and Ethical Dilemmas

Throughout this course, psychological tests have been seen as valuable professional tools that can have positive and negative aspects. Test construction, standardization, and psychometric properties can all affect the usefulness of psychological tests. However, tests are just tools that psychologists use. Possibly more important is how tests are used and interpreted. Current trends, such as Internet and computer testing, and physiological and neurological measures all show promise. While new procedures and trends can create many theoretical questions, it is the American Psychological Association’s Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct that is woven throughout everything psychologists do.


In order to participate in this discussion, please access the APA’s Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct. Two relevant general principles are Principle A: Beneficence and Nonmaleficence, and Principle C: Integrity. These principles apply to testing as well as to other activities performed by psychologists. After you review these two ethical principles, complete the following:


Write a statement that describes the meaning of each principle as it relates to psychological testing.

Identify a specific behavior exemplifying good practice and a specific behavior exemplifying poor practice with regard testing for each principle.

What guidance can the Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct give you as technology and other advances create ethical dilemmas in the area of psychological testing?