Being Safe with Psychometrics

Being Safe with Psychometrics

imageI read with interest this article sent to me on ‘Risk Type, compliance and personal responsibility’  under the heading ‘Culture and Behaviours’.

As we know there is no such thing as objective psychology nor objectivity in the evaluation of risk. Several questions need to be brought to any psychometrics especially about bias in methodology? A Critical Discourse Analysis with help you understand what this view is about. But be assured, there is no such thing as unbiased diagnostics. All design reflects the worldview of the designer, especially diagnostics that propose that ‘risk type’ can be measured, controlled or identified.

There are many dangers embedded in this article that are not identified or owned. My first problem with this article is to do with its audience. Writing this kind of stuff to ‘health and safety practitioners’ is problematic, not least of which is the ability of Safety to think critically or have any understanding of psychology. Similarly, the article plays into the Safety mindset that wants simplistic solutions and easy answers to a wicked problem.

Understanding risk is not a simple process, because risk is essential for learning. We would have no innovators, entrepreneurs, creative Minds and discovery, if it was not for risk. Similarly, if one suggests that qualities of risk can either be manipulated or modified, one is bordering on the line of Eugenics.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s great to espouse person-centeredness if this is what this article is about, but there is much more that is hidden in this narrative-text that is not discussed.

Let’s start with a few concerns:

Psychometrics is not an exact science and is plagued by its own mythologies about measurement. Very few in safety would understand the complexities to do with psychological metrics and would know very little of its associated problems. You could start by reading Kaplan and Saccuzzo (2005) Psychological Testing, Principles, Applications and Issues and many similar books that will quickly dispose of safety naivety about psychometrics.

There are also easier texts to read on the mythologies of psychometrics such as: or;

One thing we need to make clear is that there is much mythology that exists in the area of psychometrics. So, the application of a Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) would be helpful (;

As part of the mythology of all metrics is the foundational issue of ethics. Whilst this article uses language of a ‘person centric approach’ there seems little respect for an ethic of personhood in the method in which the results of psychometrics are applied as an organizational and managerial tool. The article mentions ‘morality’ and ‘virtue’ without qualification yet, there are real moral concerns about the application of psychometrics as if they are objective or neutral.

Whilst this paper uses language like ‘human nature’, undercurrents’, underlying reality’, providence’ and ‘instinctive dispositions’ it makes no mention of the unconscious. Why is this? Nor any mention of heuristics, a critical element in understanding unconscious decision making.

How interesting the mention of Dekker and Hollnagel as ‘person centric’, when both are ‘system centric’. When one can write about ‘Resilience Engineering’, this is the opposite of person centrism. When one views accidents as a ‘failure of risk management’, the focus is on systems ( ). Without an ethic of risk including a well-articulated personhood and despite excellent critique of traditional safety, most S2 and safety differently approaches retreat into systems and metrics (eg. FRAM).

Many of the claims of this article are like a magnet to the control-centred object-centred safety industry. Consider this statement:

‘Differences in risk-disposition are measurable. Neuroscience informs us that decision making involves both Emotion and Cognition. We can therefore use individual scores on these two dimensions and map an individual’s results onto a continuous 360 degree spectrum of risk dispositions based on feelings (Emotion) and thinking (Cognition). These two axes create an incremented space within which every one of us can be placed. That 360 degree spectrum can be divided into eight ‘Risk Type’ segments for interpretation and communication purposes. This is the basis for the Risk Type Compass.’

This statement would be a thrill for Safety that loves to dream that humans can be measured and ‘managed’. This simplistic appraisal of Neuroscience omits extensive research that shows that decision making is NOT simply about ‘emotion and cognition’. There’s a list here of research in Neuroscience to get you started:

There is much use of the word Neuroscience in the safety world as a cover for behaviourism (;;;; ). Unfortunately, with a poorly educated sector as the safety industry, there is very little critique and much faith when it comes to ‘reading’ safety Discourse.

Then we get to this idea of ‘risk disposition’. Risk disposition is only measureable if you accept the assumptions of a diagnostic that proposes a non-embodied Neuropsychology. When informing others about the claims of Neuroscience one needs to NOT suggest the idea that Neuroscience is some kind of objective science or that Neuroscience is measureable. Unfortunately, what we see here feeds the simplistic black and white of ‘safety faith’ that wants such a narrative to be true.

The Risk Type Compass (associated with this Discourse) is a semiotic ( ) that is incredible selective in how it defines risk. How interesting in this article that neither risk or culture are defined. How interesting that there is no mention of learning in any of this Discourse on risk? The claims in this approach that the Risk Type Compass reflects the Neuroscience of decision-making’ is simply a projection of a selective notion of Neuroscience and omits any consideration of the complexities of Neuroscience. Just do a little research in these: Fuchs, T., (2018) Ecology of the Brain, The Phenomenology and Biology of the Embodied Mind. Oxford University Press. London. Ginot, E., (2015) The Neuropsychology of the Unconscious, Integrating Brain and Mind in Psychotherapy. Nortons. New York. … to get an idea of what is being omitted in this Discourse.

What is not present in the Discourse of this article is any notion of caution, all is assertion. And such is very dangerous for Safety.

The idea of moving about the disposition of persons is fraught with danger. And who will be doing this? Try this statement:

‘That is to say, which requirements will require more conscious effort, to do more or to do less than they are normally disposed to do; to be more attentive to details, to be less distractingly imaginative, to be more calm and focused or less inflexible, for example.’

How interesting that ‘conscious effort’ is used in relation to unconscious disposition (worldview). Can you see just how problematic such an assertion is? And here we have the old safety gems: ‘attentive to detail’, ‘less imaginative’, ‘more calm’, ‘concentration’, ‘instinct’, ‘less flexible’ person-centric data (yuk) and ‘improved safety performance’. – many of these are valuable skills needed to recognise risk. Many of these are essential to risk intelligence (; ).

Nothing is more valuable to learning and risk that imagination, bricolage and excitability. Much of the Discourse in this piece is about the reduction of risk intelligence NOT understanding risk as a Mindset of fallible personhood. How interesting that the language of ‘mindset’ and ‘concentration’ is used but no language of heuristics or the collective unconscious? So much decision making is conditioned by Socialitie, but this receives no mention.

None of this Discourse is person-centric, it’s all framed in the nature of ‘organisation’ and ‘management’. How interesting that the individualism of ‘type measurement’ is clear but it is NOT social, yet the outcome proposed is organisational and managerial which are all social?

So, let’s not walk into this kind of narrative blindsided to its dangers and assertions. Let’s not just accept the code of safety embedded in Discourse one wants to believe ( ). Any language and claims can be made but an application of CDA will reveal a better idea of motive and omissions. Just like we tell kids to be intelligent with matches the same applies to psychometrics. It’s not a panacea for risk.

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