Psychological tests and Psychodiagnostic
Being referred for psychological testing may feel intimidating, and you probably have lots of questions that you’d like to ask.
This article explains what Psychological Testing is, what to expect, and how we administer the various tests. We will then look at the most common evaluations, such as Autism, ADHD, and Memory. We also have a dedicated page with frequently asked questions on the different tests we provide, insurance coverage, timeline, and costs (if you do not have health insurance).
What is Psychological testing, and how does it work?
Psychological tests are a complete method of assessing an individual’s cognitive and behavioral traits, founding its analysis on direct observation of a person’s behavior, cognition, and self-report considerations. This method uses clinical, school, and forensic techniques to assess different domains (ex. abstract thinking, intelligence, intellectual disabilities, capacity to stand trial) with objective measures. It is similar to an MRI scan of the brain whereby physicians try to understand the underlying neurological condition, so psychological tests provide very detailed information regarding emotional, behavioral, and psychiatric disorders.
Psychological testing uses specialty tests to measure, observe and assess your behavior, cognitive abilities, and adaptive skills to investigate the underlying cause of your diagnosis so that you can have access to the correct treatment for your condition.
Your primary care physician, your therapist, or a school psychologist can refer you for testing. It may be because he or she is concerned about an underlying condition or an undiagnosed illness affecting your life. Since most mental disorders are often challenging to diagnose without specific tests, psychological testing offers the opportunity to discover any underlying conditions that you may have, allowing your treating provider to create a target treatment plan.
At our office, only licensed psychologists are allowed to perform psychological tests and psychological assessments. An assessment is the use of multiple tests administered sequentially, known as test battery. When your provider refers you for psychological testing, we start by gathering all the pertinent information about your medical history to rule out medical conditions that may be causing your symptoms.
There are various parts to a psychological test, with each component attempting to identify any abnormalities in one’s behavior or thought process.
Remember, psychological tests aim to determine whether your behavior, thoughts, emotions, or essential brain function is up-to-scratch. Sometimes, to better understand rare conditions, we may refer you to a neurologist to obtain an MRI and have a clear view of your brain’s internal structure. An MRI helps to rule illnesses like brain scars, reduced or enlarge areas of the brain, strokes, and other morphological situations. Then we discuss the results with you and agree with a course of action.
Your physician may also refer you for a psychological test to determine whether your treatment, such as medications, impacts your condition.
Components of a Psychological Test
As the human brain is very complex, the psychological test is also very extensive and attempts to evaluate all brain’s thought-related functions.
Usually, there are four main components of a psychological assessment, the first one being an interview. Don’t worry about this, as it is not the type of interview you’d get for a job. It is way more open, relaxed, and less structured than other forms of formal testing. The interview takes place before any further testing forms and usually lasts between 45 and 75 minutes, depending on your medical history. Some of the things explored are personal and childhood history, work and school history, family background, and recent life experiences. As with any other medical history, this interview is significant for your psychologist as it gives an insight into your life and how it affects your mental health.
Another component is the norm-referenced test. During this test, you complete a set of tasks under set conditions (i.e., time-limited). A norm-referenced test is standardized, meaning that your results will be scaled and referenced using a norm group, after which you’ll receive a score that reflects how close/far away you are from the normal range.
The next part of the assessment is the informal assessment. Your psychologist will ask you to complete different tasks depending on what he or she thinks is appropriate. This aspect attempts to gauge your learning ability, specific core behavioral metrics, and a deeper understanding of underlying feelings known as unconscious feelings. For example, you may write a short story, read a piece of text aloud, or comment on a given scenario. All of this information paints a complete picture of what goes on in your mind.
The final part, albeit present throughout the testing sessions, is observation. Your psychologist may observe how you behave and act in a natural setting, such as at the office, at home, or at work. Because it is not always possible to freely observe you in locations outside our office, we give you, or when feasible to a family member (ex. your spouse), a specific form to describe your behavior’s character.
This part provides valuable insight into your behavioral patterns; however, your psychologist will also consider how others treat you, as this also gives the psychologist more information about you.
As you see, psychological tests are very complex, and this summary aims to equip you with the basics. The contents of the test will also change depending on what condition your psychologist suspects you have.
When should I get tested?
It depends. Your primary care physician, psychiatrist, or therapist may recommend you get tested if they suspect you have an underlying health condition. You may also choose to obtain an evaluation if previous treatments have failed, such as medication or therapy.
But, there is nothing to fear when you go to get tested. These tests are standard practice, and there is no need to prepare for them beforehand. Preparing beforehand may make you appear to have more issues than you do.
Testing for Suspected Autism Spectrum Disorder
There are many standard tests used to diagnose ASD, encompassing executive functions, adaptive skills, personality, and cognitive abilities,
In adults, the evaluation focuses on observation, executive functions, and adaptive abilities at home and at work, along with the medical history. The psychologist gathers information about your behavior accordingly. Additionally, there is also a heavy focus on the interview section of the psychological test.
Due to the nature of Autism Spectrum Disorder, adults who have not been previously diagnosed with ASD tend to present with high-functioning ASD, meaning that they still have a good ability to interact with other people socially. However, some may still find it challenging to do so. Hence, adults tend to develop compensatory mechanisms to compensate for their disability. This mechanism makes a diagnosis based on observation alone tricky.
The evaluation of Autism in children involves participation from the parents, the child, and when feasible, information from the teacher(s).
Tests for Short Term Memory and Attention
Your clinician may recommend that you get tested for short-term or long-term memory if he or she wants to understand your memory baseline functioning better. Specialty tests are employed to assess your memory abilities that involve different brain areas. The Pasadena Clinical Group can administer many required tests online and be carried out either via a computer or in a clinical setting.
The tests assess your ability to recall information you learned a long time ago and new information you just heard during the test administration. The data is presented sequentially and comprises letters, pictures or shapes.
There are several tests used to measure attention spans. Some focus more on auditory attention, while others combine attention with motor-coordination, using quantitative feedback (i.e., pressing buttons). These tests gauge whether you’re paying attention or not to visual and auditory stimuli. Standard techniques used are:
- Direct measure: this is the most common type and is generally accepted to be very accurate. A series of audio and visual stimuli pop up on your display, and based on simple rules, you click your mouse or the spacebar to record how fast and how accurate you are on the target.
- Eye-tracking. There are several eye trackers, but most require you to put a device onto yourself. The eye tracker will see where your eyes are pointing, and this is a good, indirect way to measure whether you’re paying attention or not.
- Mouse-tracking: this is an alternative to eye-tracking, and as the name suggests, mouse-tracking uses your mouse to track your movements. Depending on the type of test used, it measures your attention span.
There are other ways to test your attention span, however, these three are the most popular options.
Notes on the brain
A) The Frontal Lobe
The frontal lobe is the most complex part of the human brain. The frontal lobe has many functions, such as concentration, planning, judgment, emotional expression, creativity, and action inhibition.
As you see, the frontal lobe is responsible for many functions that make us human, being involved in creativity, emotional expression, planning, and judgment. Many mental disabilities are known to affect the frontal lobe.
Sensory information, provided by your eyes, ears, nose, and skin, is relayed to your frontal lobe so you can process your surroundings and act upon them. This is important in planning, judgment, and emotional expression.
B) The Hippocampus
The hippocampus is another essential part of the brain used in learning, memory, aggression, rage, and hormone regulation. The most crucial function is memory.
The hippocampus receives input from other parts of the brain, such as the frontal lobe and the premammillary region, to name a few. These connections enable the hippocampus to respond to a change in the environment, therefore adding additional complex functionality to its existence extensively.
As you can see, the brain’s structure and function are complex, and when something minimal goes wrong, it can have a significant impact on your mental health.
Therefore, it is wise not to underestimate mental health, as it is a real thing that should be looked after.
In conclusion, the types of psychological tests we can administer are diverse, and they are used to diagnose many different health conditions, from autism spectrum disorder to diseases that affect your ability to concentrate.
Psychological tests themselves are complex, too, with many components that attempt to evaluate all aspects of your brain and how it functions. As the brain remains a complex organ, psychological tests are made to involve different areas, as they need to evaluate various parts of your brain, including areas that govern emotions and thought processes.
We have also looked at the psychological tests that are involved in diagnosing ASD and other mental disabilities.