There are times in history when the monumental injustice of a standard practice eludes us. Such is the case in which racism and white supremacy have been maintained in American society through the practice of mainstream psychology and psychological testing for over 100 years. Mainstream psychology became widely accepted after being firmly established by a dominant group who was reluctant to question its own actions. It has resulted in the oppression of human beings whose voices were neglected during the establishment of its theories and clinical practice. Because of historic acceptance, it is hard to believe that mainstream psychology in the US could be unjust or that change is needed. Yet, it is unjust, and the time for change is now!
Dominance of White Culture in Psychological Theory & Tests
Nearly every psychological theory taught in colleges and practiced in clinics in the US was derived by psychologists and psychiatrists who shared a White Euro-centric culture. ALL mainstream IQ and personality tests administered in US public schools, detention centers, prisons, courts, the military, jobs, and clinics were designed by White practitioners. Furthermore, assessment software programs used to guide parole decisions, such as COMPAS, are based on theories of crime and deviancy developed by White practitioners. The standard practice of psychological testing and risk assessment has become so widespread that tests taken across a person’s lifetime can have the tragic result of one ethnic group deciding who thrives and who dies. We cannot accept the stance that the need for multicultural assessment is new or emerging. The scarcity of multicultural tests is not a matter of emergence, but evidence of oppression by a controlling, deciding group. The world is, and has always been, multicultural. Diversity is not emerging, it has been chained!
Culture can trap and limit one’s understanding of a global, multidimensional, dynamic construct. When a single dominant group makes the tests, any construct that is measured, such as intelligence, may be limited and under-represented due to the authors’ grasp or understanding of the construct. When culture limits the scope of a construct, the chances are more likely that test-takers who share salient qualities or beliefs with the test developers may appear superior on tests while those who differ may be more likely to appear inferior. In this way, test-takers could become categorized into levels of superiority relative to the embedded values and culture of the test-makers. To prevent cultural supremacy and the under-representation of constructs, one dominant cultural group must not be permitted to make all the tests or determine the performance levels of people within a diverse society.
We must acknowledge what significance specific constructs, such as intelligence and personality, have in terms of social control. Social justice requires that we answer crucial questions, such as:
Which racial/cultural group markets, profits from, and controls psychological tests?
Which racial/cultural groups are more likely to be given intelligence and personality tests?
What are the cumulative or compounding effects of tests administered within many important social systems (e.g., schools, courts, parole boards, clinics, agencies who determine disabilities or eligibility, the military, and employment settings) on the individual, group, and society?
Tests designed by people from the same culture or experiential histories may also reflect familiarity with the measured constructs, thus compromising external, internal, and construct validity (Campbell & Stanley, 1963; Cook & Campbell, 1979). Claims that tests are fair and culture-free should not be accepted if these claims are based on studies using criteria of test fairness that were also developed primarily by White researchers. White researchers are not the appropriate persons to test or determine the lack of cultural or racial bias in tests created by themselves or other researchers from the same ethnic or cultural group.
Racial discrimination and the effects of “compounded profiling’ across time and settings must be considered whenever people who differ from the mainstream culture are evaluated by measures designed by mainstream test-makers. No test created solely by White, Euro-American test-makers should be given to people of color in order to evaluate their intelligence, personality, behavior, psychological functioning, cognitive abilities, job performance, parole readiness, or employment eligibility.
Intelligence, achievement, and aptitude tests solely designed by White researchers are used in all school districts across the US. Determinations which can affect a child for his or her lifetime should not be based on unfair tests that do not account for a child’s diversity from mainstream White culture. No test-makers, regardless of past success or funding, should be allowed to continue to make tests, receive federal funding, or market tests to US school districts that state or federal courts have established as being culturally or racially biased against children of color. If a child version of a test is found to be culturally biased, all adult versions should be discontinued from use on adults of color and tested for cultural biases, too.
Although psychological evaluations are commonly ordered in courts, no mainstream intelligence or personality tests has been normed specifically for prison or detainee populations, and thus cannot be assumed to be valid for these populations. Socially sanctioned crime occurs when testimony from psychologists or psychiatrists leads to wrongful convictions for anyone subjected to culturally biased tests and subsequently flawed interpretations. According to the American Psychological Association (APA, 2002), “Psychologists use assessment instruments whose validity and reliability have been established for used with members of the population tested.” Due to cultural biases and the lack of norming data for prisoner populations, no psychological tests or risk assessments written solely by White test-makers should be allowed to be used as unequivocal or irrefutable evidence in parole/probation hearings for people of color.
Neglect of Diversity
To date, no major, “established” intelligence or personality test has been normed specifically for racial groups, cultures, religious beliefs or creeds even though cultural biases increase the risk of pathologizing and dehumanizing persons who differ from mainstream White culture. However, makers of mainstream psychological tests have thus far been held largely unaccountable for the damage their products have caused due to racial or cultural bias. In fact, they have been rewarded. White researchers have cornered the funding sources and testing markets though reissuing re-normed “established” tests and maintaining control of the testing industry. We must accept the reality of cultural “corruption” and supremacy in testing when one dominant cultural group is profiting from the marketing and control of all mainstream tests.
There also appears to be no significant effort from principal funding sources to share major funding for assessment research with researchers of color who could design other tests of intelligence, personality, and risk or develop acculturation scales to add to mainstream tests. Currently, there are no mainstream intelligence, behavioral, or personality tests commonly administered in courts, clinics, or schools that include acculturation scales. The extent of acknowledging diversity has been to translate mainstream tests into other languages without making changes to account for cultural differences in the understanding of constructs. As a result, only one culture’s understanding or perspective of any construct remains. A collective understanding may become possible only when other perceptions and perspectives are allowed to help form a broader, more comprehensive definition of a construct. As the perceptions of a construct increase in diversity, the more complete the understanding of the construct can become.
The United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights
According to the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which the United States signed as a member state, “All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination.” All persons asked to take psychological tests should have the same rights as the test-makers. They should be fully informed as to the purpose of the test’s items and content, as well as the intent of any psychological test they are being asked to take. Persons taking psychological should be informed of norming data for their cultural group and of any risks or future consequences that may result from psychological testing. All persons should have the right to refuse psychological testing without penalty.
U.S. Constitutional Rights – The 4th and 5th Amendments
According to the Fifth Amendment of the US Constitution, a person has the right not to be a witness against himself or herself. Given that a person’s responses on a psychological test or clinical interview could be considered as witnessing against oneself, he or she should be allowed to refuse psychological testing or clinical interviews which could incriminate, too. The Fifth Amendment to the US constitution should be extended to a person’s right to remain silent in response to psychological testing and clinical interviews and to have data and interpretations from tests and clinical interviews sealed or disallowed in court. The Fourth Amendment of the US Constitution should also be extended to persons within the United States to protect the security of their minds from “search and seizure” inherent in psychological tests AND interviews. The mind is within the person. Demanding that a person be subjected to potentially or empirically substantiated invalid tests or a clinical interview for which no norming data exist should be equated with an unreasonable search and seizure of one’s mind.
Solutions for Change
The point of this article is not that psychological testing is useless. Testing can be necessary. However, psychology does not belong to one ethnicity or cultural group. Therefore, tests of psychology or psychological constructs cannot be developed or defined by one ethnicity or culture. We must seek a collective understanding in which other perspectives are acknowledged and accepted. We must also protest against the preferential funding of test-makers whose tests appear to maintain and benefit the dominant status quo through the suppression of voices and perspectives from non-dominant groups.
Yes, new tests must be developed, and funding is necessary for development. The standard practice of awarding money primarily to “established” test-makers of mainstream tests must change. Funds must be shared, with priority for larger funding to be awarded to researchers of color and university with multicultural assessment programs to develop, market, and distribute new tests for all social systems that rely on psychological evaluation and to establish indices of test fairness. Development of new tests will take major funding, large samples, and much time. In the interim, multicultural teams must be funded to develop acculturation scales that can be added to current mainstream tests.
New tests must also be implemented into the social systems that use psychological tests and risk assessments. Federal laws, such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the No Child Left Behind Act were necessary to usher in fairness and equity for all into social systems and corporate sectors that festered with discrimination and corruption. Federal legislation appears to be vitally important to compel systems to ensure fair testing is available for all, too. Public awareness campaigns should also be funded to alert persons of their rights to fair testing and how cultural bias has corrupted mainstream psychology and its tests.
Psychological tests should not be used as the primary means to tip the scales of justice in favor of a guilty verdict, conviction, or parole rejection. Interpretations from psychological tests should not form the basis of any judgment of guilt, particularly against persons of color or individuals for whom normative data are not available. To prevent further human rights violations, an “Eight-Point Plan” is proposed below for courts to undertake regarding the use of psychological or psychiatric testimony, evaluations, and tests.
An Eight-Point Plan
No psychological test should be allowed to be used as evidence in a U.S. Court of law that can be found to be culturally biased or loaded against a defendant’s culture or ethnic group.
Defendants who are persons of color should be given the opportunity to seek a new trial or be acquitted of all charges in cases in which a jury’s verdict can be shown to have resulted from sole consideration of culturally loaded or biased evaluations, tests, and/or testimony.
Defendants should be allowed to have access to their own legal counsel to evaluate the appropriateness and evidence or lack of evidence in regard to claims of validity for any psychological test requested by a court or conducted in a detention or penal setting.
Defendants should be allowed the right to reject psychological or psychiatric testing that could affect the outcome of their case if such testing can be found to be inappropriate, invalid, or biased against the defendant based on inadequate or inappropriate norming samples with which to compare then defendant’s response patterns.
Legal counsel should be required to show evidence of graduate training and continued professional development focused on understanding the use and validity of psychological testing and evaluations.
Similar to the practice of providing patients with information on side effects for prescribed medications, persons being evaluated with psychological tests should be informed of any possible sequelae, risks, or negative consequences from psychological testing and evaluations.
Courts should not allow any testimony from mental health professionals regarding a person of color’s mental health that is based on past or current psychological testing found to be invalid or biased against that person’s ethnic or cultural group.
Psychologists, psychiatrists, and school psychologists must share all published psychometric data from psychological, psychiatric, psycho-educational, employee/student performance, and probation/parole assessment measures that they intend to use to assess another human being, along with explanations of the psychometric data, including but not limited to norming limitations from standardization samples, methodological limitations, and lack of acculturation scales.
American Psychological Association (2002). Ethical principles of psychologists and code of conduct. American Psychologist, 57, 1060-1075.
Campbell, D.T., & Stanley, J.C. (1963). Experimental and quasi-experimental designs for research. Chicago: Rand McNally.
Cook, T.D., & Campbell, D.T. (1979). Quasi-experimentation: Design and analysis issues for field settings. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.