Psychometrics is branch of psychology that deals with the design, administration, and interpretation of quantitative tests for the measurement of psychological variables such as intelligence, aptitude, and personality traits. The analysis profiles the individual using the Big Five personality traits: extraversion (also often spelled extroversion), agreeableness, openness, conscientiousness, and neuroticism.
Each trait represents a continuum. Individuals can fall anywhere on the continuum for each trait. The Big Five remain relatively stable throughout most of one’s lifetime. They are influenced significantly by both genes and the environment, with an estimated heritability of 50%. They are also known to predict certain important life outcomes such as education and health.
Cognition Scale is an assessment of thinking (cognitive) capacity of an individual. Psychometrics is used to profile individuals within society to build data sets for demographics and then, with Cognition Scale, used to build campaigns of influence to change what target individuals believe in - and vote on.
EMOTION OVER REASON
Recent elections have hogged the headlines due to their rhetoric and their politics. However, one consistent theme across both the Trump victory and the Brexit success was their use of advanced marketing techniques. These campaigns utilized the power of emotion to drive their narratives and leveraged the complexities of Big Data to direct those messages at segmented groups with devastating effect.
The recent victories were not merely political successes, but demonstrations of the immense potential of advanced marketing and advertising methods. We’ll look at three key areas in this article:
- Why are emotions so powerful in decision making?
- What is psychometric testing – the Trump and Brexit campaigns’ marketing method – and what can it tell us about our audience?
- How do we turn theory into actionable techniques?
"The world of marketing is changing. Don’t get left behind." - Saatchi and Saatchi
As with any brand, political parties must craft an image. This image should present a narrative to the public which the public can identify with and support.
Elon Musk forever talks about how his ultimate purpose is to save the species. He talks about grand plans and future dreams rather than what his companies are doing at the moment he’s talking. Instead of being a car manufacturer who wants to create an affordable electric car, he is a visionary who wants to transition the planet away from fossil fuels. Instead of being a rocket manufacturer who wants to decrease the cost of launching satellites, he’s trying to save the human race by terraforming Mars.
Elon Musk spins a narrative like no other. Though, he is helped by the fact that he seems entirely genuine in his convictions. Dr. Drew Westen, professor of psychology at Emory university, believes successful politicians have been doing the same – and unsuccessful ones should have been. Our brain is wired to promote emotionally driven decisions
Dr. Drew Westen’s views on the power of emotion became popular again after the election of Donald Trump, yet he was the subject of a feature in the New York Times 10 years before, making the very same points. One of Westen’s primary pieces of research was a 2004 study where he measured participants’ neural responses to images of their favored politicians. He would present the participants with contradicting statements made by their candidate.
The initial reaction was for these neural networks to flare up – particularly, the right frontal lobe, the insula, and the amygdala; areas of the brain associated with distress and regulating emotions. In these moments of distress, the emotional areas of the brain would light up as the participant sought to deny or negate the contradiction presented to them, while the more rational parts of the brain remained quiet. Westen’s conclusion from extensive testing was that the emotional areas of the brain play a significantly larger role than we anticipate in how we form beliefs. Moreover, once the participant was satisfied that they had resolved the contradiction presented to them, the brain rewarded itself with positive feelings – reinforcing the emotionally motivated decision.
This is not to say that rational and logical thinking doesn’t have sway over our opinions, but that the emotional areas of our brain are involved in the process to a far greater degree than we usually believe.
EMOTIONAL NARRATIVES CREATE POSITIVE ASSOCIATIONS
According to Emolytics, a company that places emotion and the measuring of it central to understanding customer behavior, emotions play a huge role in any successful advertising campaign.
They quote Zig Ziglar, master salesman: “People don’t buy for logical reasons. They buy for emotional reasons.”
Studies consistently show that emotions play a vital role in constructing memory, even to the extent that instigating emotion can add to the strength of the memories of emotionally neutral experiences directly after. It is no wonder then that brands work very hard to connect emotion with their products.
Coca Cola use positive emotions such as youth, family, and fun to sell their product. They also play on patriotism and their global position as a symbol of America overseas. McDonald’s does similar but with a greater focus on family. Negative emotions, on the other hand, have been used to encourage people to quit cigarettes or to discourage behavior more generally. In politics, these have been used as attack campaigns against opposition candidates. Or in certain campaigns, these negative emotions have been used to bring certain policy issues to the center of political discourse.
This well-known "Breaking Point" poster from the UK Brexit campaign (never-ending lines of shabby 'brown' immigrants - Muslims front and centre) was used to discourage people from staying within the EU and served as part of a larger wave of promotion which placed immigration at the center of the referendum debate. This encouraged the conflation of the EU’s principle of freedom of movement with an open door policy to the world. Many voters have declared their primary reason for voting leave was to stop immigration from non-EU countries. This poster may have been heavily criticized, but the broader campaign worked as planned.
The Remain campaign in Brexit also employed emotion, however, they shied away from going as far as the out-brigade. The poster of Vote Leave leader Nigel Farage with a microphone shadow casting a Hitler moustache on his face is an example of materials proposed by Saatchi&Saatchi which the Remain camp opted not to use for fear of poisoning the political discourse.
Where emotion was really championed was in the emerging world of ultra-targeted advertising. In these adverts, marketers are able to construct and convey the right emotions to the right people. But how do we know who the right people are and how they will react to marketing materials? The answer is: Psychometrics.
WHAT IS PSYCHOMETRICS?
One of the interesting connections between the Trump campaign and the Brexit campaign, other than shared rhetoric, was the involvement of communications firm Cambridge Analytica (CA) – of which allegedly Steve Bannon was formerly chairman of the board. Both campaigns used psychometric profiling as one of their strategies to identify potential voters and to inform their approach and rhetoric in reaching certain groups.
Psychometrics allow marketers to utilize big data to assess vast numbers of people and construct personality profiles on each according to frameworks like The Big Five (OCEAN approach) and the Need for Cognition Scale in order to automatically pinpoint individuals most likely to convert, picked out from groups of millions.
In short, marketers can minimize the number of people they have to reach in order to make a sale. This results in huge leaps in efficiency and, as a result, cost reduction, reach increase and - particularly important - message precision.
The 2016 paper, Networks of Control, by Wolfie Christl and Sarah Spiekermann, provides a wealth of information to help us understand "Big Data" and its methods. The ability to analyze huge amounts of data in order to take away understandings which would otherwise be obscured is generally referred to as Big Data. The term “big” is typically used to describe three key aspects:
- Volume – the increasing size of data
- Velocity – the increasing rate in which it is both produced and transmitted
- Variety – the increasing range of formats, variables, and representations
Big Data has been summarized by accounting firm McKinsey as: “refer[ing] to datasets whose size is beyond the ability of typical database software tools to capture, store, manage, and analyze”
Cambridge Analytica, for example, claim to have 5,000 data points per person – and they’re talking about almost every person in the United States, plus many more worldwide. It is in this vast treasure trove of information that we can find new knowledge about individuals and can parse that information in actionable ways.
OCEAN - BIG FIVE DIMENSIONS
One key area employed within the elections is pulling vast data on voters and understanding that through the prism of a psychometric framework known as The Big Five. This approach is centered around summarizing an individual’s personality through relation to five key categories:
We know this methodology is employed by Cambridge Analytica as their CEO Alexander Nix is quoted as describing basic demographic targeting – widely used to segment an audience – as: “A really ridiculous idea. The idea that all women should receive the same message because of their gender—or all African-Americans because of their race.”
So what is the difference?
Demographic targeting is not very good for, is converting people to your product. But a politician in an election needs to appeal to millions of people in order to win the election. It's no good relying only on a base. Winning needs voters to swing in your favour. This makes finding people susceptible to your product or message an obvious priority; and once found, the critical goal is to convert them. This is where the psychometrics or emotional mapping techniques offered through the Big Five methodology can help.
Michael Kosinski, when researching at Cambridge University, created an experiment where he posted a free-to-access psychometric test online to gather small amounts of data to inform his data analysis. This test went viral on Facebook and Kosinski was able to draw some powerful conclusions from his study. With 170 likes per person, Kosinski’s methods were able to predict the following attributes with the connected rates of accuracy.
(include table of Kosinksi's results)
The more likes Kosinski’s model had for a person, the more accurately they could draw results and the more intimate those subjects were:
- “Kosinski continued to work on the models incessantly: before long, he was able to evaluate a person better than the average work colleague, merely on the basis of ten Facebook “likes.” Seventy “likes” were enough to outdo what a person’s friends knew, 150 what their parents knew, and 300 “likes” what their partner knew. More “likes” could even surpass what a person thought they knew about themselves.”
- This research done by Kosinski was allegedly leaked from Cambridge University by Aleksander Kugan and passed on to Strategic Communications Limited (SCL) – seemingly an overarching group under which many other organizations exist, including Cambridge Analytica. SCL (or SCL affiliated entities) has been employed to influence elections all around the world and has also managed public relations efforts on behalf of NATO in war zones like Afghanistan.
With Kosinski’s research added to the substantial resources SCL and their groups have access to, a platform like Facebook is turned from being a database of people to a database of types of people.
The Big Five is not the only game in town. There are other ways to analyze the available data and make it actionable.
The Need for Cognition Scale is used in psychometrics to measure “the extent to which individuals are inclined towards effortful cognitive activities”, or feel “a need to understand and make reasonable the experiential world”. This scale is used to understand how big an impact emotions make upon an individual’s decision-making process. Persons low on the Need for Cognition Scale tend to form their opinions based heavily on emotion. People who score highly on the Need for Cognition scale are not necessarily more likely to act or think more rationally but are more highly disposed to rationalizing or hypothesizing to justify their decisions.
Richard Fording and Sanford Schram, reporting on their own research paper in the Washington Post, describe a category of voter which they label the Low Information Voter: “Low information voters are those who do not know certain basic facts about government and lack what psychologists call a “need for cognition.” Those with a high need for cognition have a positive attitude toward tasks that require reasoning and effortful thinking and are, therefore, more likely to invest the time and resources to do so when evaluating complex issues.”
According to their research, Trump was performing very well with this category of voters. That is not to suggest that all Trump voters fall into that category.
A conclusion we can pull from this, however, is that voters who score poorly on the Need for Cognition Scale are likely easier targets to sell political ideas to. They are the easiest group of floating voters to target and capture. A video from Sky news reporting on Cambridge Analytica seemed to present evidence that CA had been factoring Need for Cognition into their analysis. The video has since been removed from YouTube, however. In the video, we saw an analyst pouring over a research paper. The paper is entitled Method Effects and the Need for Cognition Scale.
The effectiveness of aligning an emotional map of someone’s personality with the knowledge of their place on a scale of susceptibility to persuasion has the potential for devastatingly effective results.
THEORY INTO PRACTICE?
At this point, we would be speculating on the methodology used by Cambridge Analytica or any other SCL affiliated group to gather the huge amounts of data they’re acting upon. However, the services of these firms and others like them are commercially available and not all are so secretive.
One firm which fits within this category is VisualDNA. This company claims to be able to reach huge numbers of people across the world whom they have complex and extensive data on. According to Christl and Speikermann, VisualDNA gathered their data by creating online games and quizzes which users took voluntarily. These games would involve psychometric tests used to determine users’ individual profiles. They then use these results to help large companies target their advertising more effectively. They are able to segment individuals via a broad range of different frameworks.
From a recent whitepaper published by VisualDNA, they claim:
- “When it comes to connecting with your audience, it’s emotionally intelligent creative that makes the magic happen—and the OCEAN model offers a powerful way to identify messages that will resonate with individual members of your audience.”
- In short, the tools these companies use to target individuals, whether on behalf of companies or political parties, provide the most advanced means of targeting. Through creating content able to appeal to the right emotional triggers and then targeting that content at those most susceptible to it, the conversion rates will increase dramatically as the cost per conversion reduces.
- The way psychometric targeting is revolutionizing communication between organizations and individuals means those who fail to employ it will get left behind.
- Whether through employing an external contractor or establishing an in-house department dedicated to this approach, political parties and large organizations cannot afford to neglect the opportunities this method presents.
ACT ON GATHERED DATA
There are multiple large advertising options online with Facebook and Google representing the two most powerful and commonly used. We’ll focus on Facebook advertising to provide a clear example of how you can act upon the segmented datayou have gathered. If you have gathered customer information including email and “likes” from Facebook in a way similar to VisualDNA, then this guide would provide an ideal method. When someone opts to play a game in Facebook or use the “login with Facebook” option on a website, they are asked to accept that the third-party service will have access to certain public and private information.
If my privacy settings are low then this game will be able to record my Facebook identity, label it to my email address, and access all my whopping 580 “likes”. Enough, according to the Kosinski research, to know me better than I know myself. Once you have analyzed my data, and that of all other respondents you’ve collected, you can categorize the individual profiles within lists. Perhaps List1 are all the people who you think will want to buy a bike. List2 is the people who might want to buy a scooter. List3 is people you think are more interested in buying a skateboard. You would then create 3 different Facebook custom audiences, uploading a different email list for each. Here’s the process:
- Choose the list of people you want to upload and know the purpose of that list.
- Save your list in either CSV or TXT format.
- Go to the Audiences tab in your Advert manager in Facebook.
- Choose Create Audience, then Custom Audience, and then choose Customer File.
- Upload the CSV or TXT file.
- In about 30 minutes, depending on the size, Facebook will have created your Custom Audience.
Now you can create three custom audiences, one for people who like bikes, one for skateboards, and one for scooters. Meaning you can create content specially tailored to each based on your psychometric data, and you’re not wasting money shooting adverts to people who are not interested. Companies are using targeted Facebook advertising all the time. With the addition of psychometric understandings of the individual customers, companies and political entities can maximize the efficiency of their reach and sway over public opinion. Custom Trump audiences
During the election, Jared Kushner, working as the head of Trump’s social media team, set up a 100 person strong data center hidden away in a warehouse. Their job was to use digital marketers as the front line for political warfare. The Trump campaign used micro-targeting for political promotion and political fundraising. Kushner used this approach to boost the sales of Trump merchandise, increasing the daily revenue of the campaign from $8,000 to $80,000.
He also ran tests with simple videos. He would promote a short video of Trump speaking to camera in a very lo-fi way and see to what extent he could maximize watches. Kushner’s work paid off as his first test video ended up with 74 million views across the major video platforms after a spend of $160,000.
Use the science of persuasion or be left behind.
The key takeaway from the Trump campaign’s use of advanced digital marketing strategies can be found in this quote from Steven Bertoni, writing for Forbes: “FEC filings through mid-October indicate the Trump campaign spent roughly half as much as the Clinton campaign did.”
Consider, the Trump campaign were not the only ones employing digital marketing and leveraging big data in inventive ways. Yet their conversion rates were considerably better. Maybe it’s just politics.
Before you dismiss it too quickly, here’s a case study of VisualDNA’s work with a leading health and beauty company in the US: Each segment received tailored creative. Because people with high openness are generally more willing to take risks and experiment, the brand sent them a bold, confronting message: “Give two fingers to convention”. At the other end of the spectrum, members of the audience identified as having low extraversion received a softer sell: “Beauty doesn’t have to shout.” By matching the right creative with the right audience, this leading brand inspired over 1,000 customers to purchase, and boosted ROI by a massive 56 percent compared with a control group.
Get the right message to the right audience and your products or services will always find more success.
The documents below are real-world documents about the relatively new field of psychometric profiling, big data analysis and individuated microtargeting. It’s the defining public opinion trend of our time. Understanding how psychometrics works is essential, if you want to stand any chance of contributing to the public conversation in a way that sticks, in a way that’s not here today, forgotten tomorrow.
- Psychometric Profiling Microtargeting Campaign - Cambridge Analytica & Affiliates
- IN THIS LEAKED PROPOSAL PAPER, THE PITCH – FROM A CAMBRIDGE ANALYTICA (SCL GROUP) / HAYSTAQDNA ANALOGUE) – IS AN OFFER TO THE “VOTE LEAVE” TAKEN UP BY THE BUSINESS RIGHT-WING. IT IS A CASE STUDY AND A COMPREHENSIVE STRATEGY. IN 2020, THESE TECHNIQUES ARE THE BASIS OF ORTHODOX POLITICAL CAMPAIGNING. THIS IS A THREAT TO CITIZEN FREEDOM AS PSYCHOMETRICS IS SUBORDINATED TO THE NEEDS OF WEALTHY ENTRENCHED POWER, TO FACILITATE THE DEREGULATED PROMISED LAND OF DE FACTO PLUTOCRACY I.E. CORPORATE OLIGARCHY AND CORRUPT POLITICIANS IN PUBLIC-PRIVATE PARTNERSHIP, TO MAXIMIZE PROFIT AT THE EXPENSE OF THE TAX-PAYING POPULATION TRAPPED IN EVER-DECREASING OPPORTUNITY. THE STAKES COULDN’T BE HIGHER.
HISTORY OF PSYCHOLOGY
It seems that for as long as there have been humans with personalities, there have been personality theories and classification systems.
The ancient Greek physician Hippocrates hypothesized that two binaries define temperament: hot versus cold and moist versus dry. This theory resulted in four possible temperaments (hot/moist, hot/dry, cold/moist, cold/dry) called humors, which were thought to be key factors in both physical health issues and personality peculiarities.
Later, the philosopher Plato suggested a classification of four personality types or factors: artistic (iconic), sensible (pistic), intuitive (noetic), and reasoning (dianoetic). Plato’s renowned student Aristotle mused on a possible connection between the physical body and personality, but this connection was not a widespread belief until the rise of phrenology and the shocking case of Phineas Gage.
Phrenology and Phineas Gage
Phrenology, a pseudoscience that is not based on any verifiable evidence, was promoted by a neuroanatomist named Franz Gall in the late 18th century. Phrenology hypothesizes a direct relationship between the physical properties of different areas of the brain (such as size, shape, and density) and opinions, attitudes, and behaviors.
While phrenology was debunked relatively quickly, it marked one of the first attempts to tether an individual’s traits and characteristics to the physical brain. And it wasn’t long before actual evidence of this connection presented itself.
In 1848, one man’s unfortunate accident forever changed mainstream views on the interconnectivity of the brain and personality. A railroad construction worker named Phineas Gage was on the job when a premature detonation of explosive powder launched a 3.6 foot (1.1 m), 13.25 pound (6 kg) iron rod into Gage’s left cheek, through his head, and out the other side. Gage, astonishingly, survived the incident, and his only physical ailments (at first) were blindness in his left eye and a wound where the rod penetrated his head.
However, his friends reported that his personality had completely changed after the accident—suddenly he could not keep appointments, showed little respect or compassion for others, and uttered “the grossest profanity.” He died in 1860 after suffering from a series of seizures (Twomey, 2010).
This was the first case that was widely recognized as clear evidence of a link between the physical brain and personality, and it gained national attention. Interest in the psychological conception of personality spiked, leading to the next phase in personality research.
The Austrian neurologist Sigmund Freud is best known as the father of psychoanalysis, an intensive form of therapy that digs deep into an individual’s life—especially childhood—to understand and treat psychological ailments. However, Freud also focused on personality, and some of his ideas are familiar to many people. One of his most fleshed-out theories held that the human mind consists of three parts: the id, the ego, and the superego.
The id is the primal part of the human mind that runs on instinct and aims for survival at all costs. The ego bridges the gap between the id and our day-to-day experiences, providing realistic ways to achieve the wants and needs of the id and coming up with justifications for these desires. The superego is the part of the mind that represents humans’ higher qualities, providing the moral framework that humans use to regulate their baser behavior.
While scientific studies have largely not supported Freud’s idea of a three-part mind, this theory did bring awareness to the fact that at least some thoughts, behaviors, and motivations are unconscious. After Freud, people began to believe that behavior was truly the tip of the iceberg when assessing a person’s attitudes, opinions, beliefs, and unique personality.
Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung was influenced by Freud, his mentor, but ultimately came up with his own system of personality. Jung believed that there were some overarching types of personality that each person could be classified into based on dichotomous variables.
For example, Jung believed that individuals were firmly within one of two camps:
- Introverts, who gain energy from the “internal world” or from solitude with the self;
- Extroverts, who gain energy from the “external world” or from interactions with others.
This idea is still prevalent today, and research has shown that this is a useful differentiator between two relatively distinct types of people. Today, most psychologists see introversion and extroversion as existing on a spectrum rather than a binary. It can also be situational, as some situations exhaust our energy one day and on other days, fuel us to be more social.
Jung also identified what he found to be four essential psychological functions:
He believed that each of these functions could be experienced in an introverted or extroverted fashion and that one of these functions is more dominant than the others in each person.
Jung’s work on personality had a huge impact on the field of personality research that’s still felt today. In fact, the popular Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® test is based in part on Jung’s theories of personality.
Abraham Maslow and Self-Actualization
American psychologist Abraham Maslow furthered an idea that Freud brought into the mainstream: At least some aspects or drivers of personality are buried deep within the unconscious mind. Maslow hypothesized that personality is driven by a set of needs that each human has. He organized these needs into a hierarchy, with each level requiring fulfillment before a higher level can be fulfilled.
The pyramid is organized from bottom to top (pictured to the right), beginning with the most basic need (McLeod, 2007):
- Physiological needs (food, water, warmth, rest);
- Safety needs (security, safety);
- Belongingness and love needs (intimate relationships, friends);
- Esteem needs (prestige and feelings of accomplishment);
- Self-actualization needs (achieving one’s full potential, self-fulfillment).
Maslow believed that all humans aim to fulfill these needs, usually in order from the most basic to the most transcendent, and that these motivations result in the behaviors that make up a personality.
Carl Rogers, another American psychologist, built upon Maslow’s work, agreeing that all humans strive to fulfill needs, but Rogers disagreed that there is a one-way relationship between striving toward need fulfillment and personality. Rogers believed that the many different methods humans use to meet these needs spring from personality, rather than the other way around.
Rogers’ contributions to the field of personality research signaled a shift in thinking about personality. Personality was starting to be seen as a collection of traits and characteristics that were not necessarily permanent rather than a single, succinct construct that can be easily described.
Multiple Personality Traits
In the 1940s, German-born psychologist Hans Eysenck built off of Jung’s dichotomy of introversion versus extroversion, hypothesizing that there were only two defining personality traits: extroversion and neuroticism. Individuals could be high or low on each of these traits, leading to four key types of personalities.
Eysenck also connected personality to the physical body in a greater way than most earlier psychology researchers and philosophers. He posited that differences in the limbic system resulted in varying hormones and hormonal activation. Those who were already highly stimulated (introverts) would naturally seek out less stimulation while those who were naturally less stimulated (extroverts) would search for greater stimulation.
Eysenck’s thoroughness in connecting the body to the mind and personality pushed the field toward a more scientific exploration of personality based on objective evidence rather than solely philosophical musings.
American psychologist Lewis Goldberg may be the most prominent researcher in the field of personality psychology. His groundbreaking work whittled down Raymond Cattell’s 16 “fundamental factors” of personality into five primary factors, similar to the five factors found by fellow psychology researchers in the 1960s.
The five factors Goldberg identified as primary factors of personality are:
- Openness to experience
This five-factor model caught the attention of two other renowned personality researchers, Paul Costa and Robert McCrae, who confirmed the validity of this model. This model was named the “Big Five” and launched thousands of explorations of personality within its framework, across multiple continents and cultures and with a wide variety of populations.
The Big Five brings us right up to the current era in personality research. The Big Five theory still holds sway as the prevailing theory of personality, but some salient aspects of current personality research include:
- Conceptualizing traits on a spectrum instead of as dichotomous variables;
- Contextualizing personality traits (exploring how personality shifts based on environment and time);
- Emphasizing the biological bases of personality and behavior.
The Big Five is still the most mainstream and widely accepted framework for personality. It is the basis for the field of Psychometrics. See OCEAN - the Big Five personality traits for detailed breakdown of the traits used by Psychometrics.