How did you become interested in Personality Assessment?
I had no idea I would like personality assessment until I had it as a class during my first year in graduate school. In fact, shortly before starting graduate school a friend of my parents asked if I was interested in doing assessments, including IQ testing. I was startled and said "No! I want to be a therapist." Well that changed. I was at Loyola in 1984 and we had a year-long assessment course. It was taught by Marvin Acklin the first semester and by Marvin and Dan McAdams the second semester. If I recall right, once we were reasonably trained we completed at least 8 full batteries (WAIS-R, MMPI, Rorschach, TAT, figure drawings, and other procedures, such as early memories or mood scales). For each we had to write a detailed report and in the second semester we spent a large amount of time presenting cases in class for discussion. It was just fascinating to see so much uniqueness and richness in the protocols. You could learn so much about someone by seeing how they responded and what they did across these different methods. I was hooked.
What are the most interesting and/or meaningful aspects of your experiences as the editor for the society's journal?
There are so many aspects of this position that are interesting and meaningful that this is a tough question. I guess what is most interesting is to see the diverse array of content that comes to us and then to see how that content is responded to by our Action Editors, Section Editors, Consulting Editors, and reviewers, with some of that content ultimately shaped and refined by these advisors to form the final finished product that is published. I have a deep appreciation for how hard all the reviewers, editors, and authors work to bring a manuscript to publication. The most meaningful part of this for me is to be part of the process; to help shape the content of what we publish and bring forth rigorously reviewed research, theory, or case material that helps define the field of personality assessment.
Tell us how you initially learned about and joined SPA.
I was on internship at the University of Chicago Medical Center and Robert Lipgar offered a weekly assessment seminar that we could attend. Over time I got to know him and also talked with him about my dissertation research, which looked at the factor analytic convergence of personality and mood dimensions obtained from Rorschach Comprehensive System data with self-reported characteristics from the MMPI, Profile of Mood States, and Multiple Affect Adjective Checklist. It turned out that Bob was the liaison to SPA for the Samuel E. and Anne G. Beck Award that was granted jointly by the University of Chicago and SPA. Bob encouraged me to submit my dissertation for the Beck Award. He also knew that as part of my dissertation research I had been examining response frequency confounds in CS data, which he thought was an important issue. So he called up John Exner and suggested we have a symposium on this topic at the next SPA meeting, which was in New Orleans in 1991. John agreed to this and also recommended that Bob solicit a paper from Bill Kinder. So I joined SPA in the fall of 1990 in order to participate in the next meeting. The following spring I had the honor of winning the Beck award and presenting in a symposium with Bob, John, and Bill, which Irv Weiner subsequently published in JPA as part of a small series on the issue of response frequency (Exner, 1992; Kinder, 1992; Lipgar, 1992; Meyer, 1992).
How has SPA impacted or benefited you or your career?
Well, that's hard to say beyond "immensely." Since my first conference in 1991, SPA has been my professional home. I've been to the convention every year since then and look forward to seeing all of my assessment colleagues and friends there every year. In 1998 I became a representative-at-large on the SPA Board, and then subsequently in 2001 was selected to be the editor to follow Bill Kinder. And now I am at the tail end of that position, which will transfer over to Steve Huprich at the beginning of July this year. So again, it is hard to say how much SPA has impacted me or benefitted my career. It's been huge. I feel a great debt to SPA for all that it has given me. And I hope that my service to the Society helps to reciprocate and balance that ledger.
As we look forward to SPA's 100th anniversary in 2038, what do you think is important in order for the field of personality assessment to thrive and to benefit others?
I think the biggest nut to crack remains the heteromethod conundrum. We need to formally recognize the massive influence that the source of information or method of assessment has on our obtained data and thus on the inferences that we can draw from our data. In addition, we need to have a taxonomy of methods and a more fully articulated set of theoretical guidelines for what it means about a patient or a client when our methods of assessment disagree with each other, which they do more often than not. Walter Mischel's classic text from 1968, Personality and Assessment, highlighted the challenges of cross method and cross situational consistency. The extent of cross method disagreement and cross situational inconsistency it documented almost brought the study of personality and its assessment to its knees because of the seeming insignificance of traits and the overpowering influence of situational environments. However, Mischel's more recent work has documented that personality may be variable from one situation to another but it exhibits a stable "if-then signature" across different kinds of psycho-emotional environments. For instance, although people's general level of friendly behavior may be quite variable across situations, once those situations are classified in a meaningful typology, an idiographically stable pattern of "if-then" responding will be evident; e.g., for Person A, if approached by a peer, he reacts in a friendly manner, but if approached by an authority, he reacts oppositionally; for Person B, if approached by a peer, he reacts argumentatively, but if approached by an authority, he reacts submissively. Where I think we need to go as a field is to recognize that the types of methods or testing tasks we use for assessment provide different kinds of psycho-emotional environments for people. Consequently, we need to begin to define the idiographic personality signatures that illustrate meaningful disagreements across these environments. Doing so will allow us to recognize consistent personality signal (i.e., the if-then signature) from what superficially appears to be seeming cross-method disagreements and inconsistencies.