Psychological assessments for employees have been controversial in South Africa because of the country’s troubled past. Cognitive ability and personality tests, for example, were originally developed for white, English speakers, but have been applied to other language groups as determined by Apartheid laws. In response, researchers at the University of Pretoria (UP), along with colleagues from other universities, have been developing a more representative and equitable indigenous personality measure that can be used by prospective employers for a multi-cultural workforce.
Outdated psychological measures were an important cog in the machinery of Apartheid-era economic oppression, and although different tests did exist for different racial groups, there was no single, integrated test to cater to all four of the race classifications at the time.
‘No matter how much psychologists might have thought they were practising their “science” of testing by observing the ethics of this profession,’ said Dr Blade Nzimande at the Society of Industrial Psychology (SIP) Conference in 1995, ‘the fact of the matter is that this was not possible in a society that could be characterised as unethical.’
Shortly after that, the South African government passed the Employment Equity Act 55 of 1998 (EEA), with section 8 banning the use of psychological tests if they are not shown to be scientifically valid and reliable, cannot be applied fairly to all employees, and are biased against any employee or group.
Enter Professor Deon Meiring, an industrial psychologist with 19 years’ experience in the South African Police Service and a distinguished academic record in the field of cross-cultural psychology.
Following his PhD work, titled ‘Bias and equivalence of psychological measures in South Africa’, which considered the compliance of cognitive and personality tests with the EEA, Meiring established the South African Personality Inventory (SAPI) project. With the SAPI project, Professor Meiring and his local and international collaborators are developing an indigenous personality inventory that fairly caters to all local language groups, including Nguni and Sotho-Tswana.
Meiring began by questioning how people from different language and racial groups in South Africa perceive personality. Working with researchers from various institutions including UP, he set out to develop a new model of personality over a period of five years.
They collected over 55 000 data points by asking people of different language groups to describe their personality in their mother tongue. The researchers found that people attached importance to social relationships and soft-heartedness – they highlighted traits like amiability, empathy, and active support, all of which relate to Ubuntu.
Using the data they had collected, Meiring and his team developed a new personality inventory and sent it to the Health Professions Council of South Africa in 2014. There it was placed on a list of psychological tests under development. The researchers are currently investigating versions of SAPI in different languages.
The tool was also developed as an online personality test. It is now being tested through 52 companies in South Africa, and is available on the Careers24 job search website. This field-testing provides the researchers with rich representative data to keep making improvements.
The SAPI project is the largest study of its kind in Africa and the second largest study in the world after the Chinese personality Inventory (CPAI-2) study in China.
The tool is also being administered in Kenya. Research findings on the Kenyan study will be presented at the first Pan-African Psychology Congress (PAPU) to be held in Durban from 18–21 September 2017.
This article was originally published on Research Matters. Visit Research Matters to find out more about how researchers at the University of Pretoria are making their days matter with exciting projects that are changing our world for the better.