Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Value of psychological tests

I should be soon getting the results of my latest batch of psychological tests. The value of these tests is marginal.

The advantage of the tests is that they seem to be an objective measure of the parent's psychological well-being, and such measures are otherwise difficult for the court to judge. There is a substantial body of academic literature on these tests that go back many years. Expert psychologists administer the tests, and they seem scientific and reliable. Of course anything would seem scientific and reliable compared to the factors that the court usually considers in a custody case.

There are a couple of serious flaws with the whole approach. First, the psychological tests are scored purely in terms of correlations. The test administrators have a huge database on the sorts of answers that are given by various sorts of people. The tests have a lot of innocuous questions. There might be a few questions about suicide or something else that might be a direct tipoff to a psychological disorder, but most of them could be answered true or false without implying any mental problem.

The tests are scored by looking at correlations between groups of answers and patterns in the database that are known to be related to particular conditions. For example, maybe depressed people taking the test commonly say that they don't sleep well at night and they worry about stomachaches. (I am just making this up; I have no idea how depressed people would answer these questions.) So if you take the test and you say you don't sleep well at night and you worry about stomachaches, then that might be an unusual combination that would suggest that you suffer from depression. It doesn't prove anything, but it suggests a probability based on statistical data.

So the problem is that the tests don't really diagnose anything. They are mainly just useful as screening devices. If the test suggests that the patient is depressed, then the psychologist still has do interviews and maybe collect other data to make a diagnosis.

The test is a little like security personel looking to see if you match a profile. You are not guilty of anything just because you match a profile, but the security folks will think that there is a probability of a problem that merits further scrutiny.

The second big problem with the tests is that there is virtually no scientific literature relating test results with parenting capacity. The tests were not created for use in family court, and none of the questions involve parenting. Nobody knows what answers correlate with good parenting, and what patterns do not. One could reasonably infer that a high-anxiety suicidal alcoholic schizophrenic might not be a good parent, but the test data don't really measure that.

My hunch is that the tests only produce significant info in less that 5% of the custody cases. I doubt that many schizophrenics get this far in a custody dispute anyway. A test may indicate personality characteristics, such as whether someone is introverted or extroverted, but no one knows whether introverts or extroverts make better parents.

I have a court order for Dr. Inkblot to look for psychological disorders, so that is why he is doing the tests. Why the judge made the order, I don't know. Whether the results will be of any use in the case, remains to be seen.


Anonymous said...

Does your ex-wife also have a court order to get evaluated for any psychological disorders? If not, why not? From what you share, she appears to be angry and destructive as well as careless around her impressionable young children with her behaviors. Does she have any drug or alcohol problems? Is she mature enough to make good decisions in regards to the well-being of your kids? And does a father have ANY rights to know about the man that the ex-wife chooses to "raise" his kids with? I find it a sad court system indeed which will grill the father so much on cihld custody competency based solely on unproveable accusations from a selfish woman who has already demonstrated low character by commiting adultry and then instigating a brutal court battle for sole custody and lots of money , (while already moving onto another guy to financially and physically support her and help her with the kids), but then the court seems to ignore any responsibility of evaluating the new man in the children's lives.... He could be anybody with any sort of problems. I mean, your wife claims that you are such a horrible person, and yet, she DID originally pick you to her husband and father of not one, but two children, so if you ARE so horrible and mentally unstable as she now claims, then that doesn't bode well on her ability to select good healthy men to be around! And so I again ask: does a father have ANY rights when it comes to knowing/having input on who kids must spend time with when a mother leaves and creates a new relationship with another man???? Food for thought: most child molesters are step-fathers who prey on weak vulnerable needy financially unstable women with young girls desparate to feel loved and be taken care of....... scary, but true. Does the court system protect kids?

George said...

Yes, my ex-wife is supposed to be psychologically evaluated as well.

You make a lot of sense, but the family court seems to lack common sense.