Ethical Issues in Psychological Testing

One of the major ethical issues associated with psychological testing is the privacy issue. Any psychological test is carried out with the implicit understanding that the findings of the test will not be divulged to any other third parties (McIntire & Miller, 2007). A case on point is the use of employees’ results from psychological tests by employers. Teachers may also use the results of psychological tests from students without consent of the students.

Another ethical issue relating to psychological testing is the purpose for which the findings of the psychological tests are used (Beck et al, 1996). Ethical principles require that the purpose of the test be made known to the client. This is not so and usually many of these results are used for purposes other than those specified. This is unethical, for the reasons for which an individual agreed to take a psychological test may be different from those that the findings are actually used for.

Ethical issues affecting psychological testing have both positive and negative impact on the field of psychological testing. Whenever ethical issued are raised, a reaction by the stakeholders involved is to try and seal any loopholes that exist in the existing policies. This leads to the development of better policies that govern the administration of such tests. Ethical issues also have a negative impact on the field since they lead to lack of credibility for the tests.

Legal Issues in Psychological Testing

The use of psychological testing in the hiring process is one of the legal issues that face the field. Employers use psychological tests to determine who is most qualified for a particular job from a pool of many. Questions have been raised on the legality of the use of the tests in such a process (Plante, 2005). Some even view this as a form of discrimination in the workplace. Some employers also use psychological tests to determine successful candidates for promotion and many view this as a wrong choice of method to use in making such decisions.

Psychological tests are used in criminal justice. The popular lie detector, also known as a polygraph, is an example of psychological testing where authorities try to detect lies from suspected criminals. This raises the legal issue of the acceptability and validity of such test and whether or not findings from such are admissible as evidence in court (Plante, 2005). Questions are raised about the accuracy of the tests and there is always the fear that the tests may give wrong results on an innocent individual.

Legal issues facing psychological testing affect the field in both good and bad ways. When legal issues are raised, better laws are formulated to govern the administration of psychological tests and any areas of contention are agreed upon. This leads to the development of better laws intended to uphold the rights of all the parties involved. Negative impact resulting from the legal issues includes the legal battles that more often than not act to derail development in the field. It also raises doubt in the minds of many about the accuracy and validity of the psychological tests.

The Atkins V. Virginia case in 2002 is one of the cases which have the largest impact on the field of psychological testing. One of the accused in the case, Daryl Atkins, was proved to be mildly mentally retarded by use of psychological I.Q test records obtained from his school records that showed that he had an I.Q of 59 (Atkins V. Virginia). The Supreme Court of the United States ruled that Atkins be imprisoned for life and was saved from the death sentence. This case is very important in the development of clinical testing since it showed that clinical psychological testing can be used as admissible evidence in court. The court ruling was important since it set precedence on the use psychological testing in court proceedings.


Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304 (2002)

Beck, A. T., Steer, R. A., & Brown, G. K. (1996). Manual for the Beck Depression Inventory, 2nd ed. San Antonio, TX: The Psychological Corporation.

McIntire, S. A. & Miller, L. A. (2007). Foundations of psychological Testing: A Practical Approach. 2nd ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Plante, T. G. (2005). Contemporary Clinical Psychology. 2nd ed. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

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