Psychological Assessment in a Multi-Cultural Context

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There is no doubt that different vocations require different skill sets, including nursing in the medical field. There are certain personality traits that exist within an individual’s personality that would make that person conducive to the nursing profession, for example ones capacity, ability or willingness to interact with patients in a caring, empathetic manner, or whether an applicant to nursing school would holistically be suited for the profession. These personality traits can be discovered through psychological assessment as a tool to maximize success in a selection process.

In South Africa there are challenges and concerns to be raised when considering psychological assessments due to the multi-cultural context of the country, and even though most of these concerns have been resolved there is still a generally wide perception that psychological assessments are not suited for our diverse cultural pool. In order to understand where this perception comes from, one has to look at the journey of psychological assessment in South Africa to date and only then will we be able to dispel the myths and incorrect perceptions.


Psychological assessment first came to be in South Africa through our British colonial heritage (Claassen, 1997), and at its inception was primed for measurement towards western cultures. Internationally there were attempts to design tests that were “culture-free” however they were unsuccessful, which also tells us that the concern of considering psychological assessments due to the multi-cultural context of South Africa is in fact valid. There are many factors in South Africa that provoke further question not raised internationally because of our unique social, political and economic background, as well as the numerous diverse cultures including, Western, Eastern and several African cultures by now living in South Africa for many generations.

Within educational and clinical practices measures were developed for psychological assessment by the Institute for Psychological and Edumetric Research (IPER) between 1960 and 1984, however in the same way that that the country was racially segregated so too were the tests, with measures developed along cultural and racial lines. Apartheid policies played a roll in test development (Nzimande, 1995), and tests were not only first standardized for ‘white’ people, but also designed to reflect and endorse political ideologies and agendas drawing distinctions between races and intelligence supporting dominance of one race over another.

People became aware of the fact that one could not assess measurements from standardized tests due to subjects coming from a variety of cultural backgrounds and completely different tests were used for different races. However, as the political landscape shifted and people from different races began to compete for the same jobs, concerns were raised on how applicants could be compared when taking different tests.

Cultural bias in tests and measurement was no doubt once rife in South Africa and as a result a negative perception towards the usefulness of psychological assessment developed and a large portion of the South African population rejected psychological measures altogether (Claassen, 1997; Foxcroft, 1997). Even though this perception may be have been valid 20 years ago, the truth is that tangible, statistical measurement devises have since been constructed and standardized with guidelines being set to adapt tests in a cross-cultural context, such as ‘Guidelines for Adapting Educational and Psychological Test’ (Hambleton, 2001), and that research practitioners in South Africa, together with government and third party governing bodies have implemented strict policies and procedures in order to ensure that the rights of individuals will not be at risk through psychological assessment.

Many studies have been conducted on the bias of psychological assessments in order to eliminate...
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