OSS ASSESSMENT TESTS

A series of personality tests, primarily of the situational type, devised for the selection of candidates for strategic missions during World War II.When the Office of Strategic Services, the forerunner of today’s Central Intelligence Agency, was organized, one of the major problems was that of selecting men to carry on special operations aimed at destroying the morale of enemy troops, organizing and training resistance groups, and gathering information behind enemy lines. The psychologist Henry A. Murray, who had developed the Thematic Apperception Test at Harvard University, was assigned the difficult task of finding a method of choosing the type of person best suited for this kind of assignment. The assessment program which Murray and his staff devised was considered an important contribution not only to the war effort but to personality testing in general.The investigators adopted the over all viewpoint of German military psychologists, who believed that observation of behavior on complex tasks involving intellect, emotion, and physical behavior would be more indicative than a study of the candidate’s education, employment record, or performance on standard personality or intelligence tests. They therefore constructed a series of situational or “work sample” tests that required the candidates to face stresses, conflicts, and problems of the same general nature as in the situations they would later confront. The program took three days to administer, and during this period a concerted effort was made not only to determine the candidate’s performance on the tests, but to evaluate his personality as a whole. This over-all, or “holistic” approach was one of the most unique and successful features of the program.The first step was to give each candidate a fictitious name to prevent his test mates from identifying his service status or civilian origin. From then on almost everything he did was recorded —the way he greeted the staff, whether he followed or led in informal activities, his actual conversations about subjects that revealed his attitudes, purposes, prejudices, and religious faith. During the three-day period he took many written tests, including aptitude and projective tests, and answered questionnaires designed to elicit information about his life and personality. This material was later analyzed and used to guide the line of questioning which an examiner took in a clinical interview. This part of the process turned out to be one of the most revealing of all the procedures.The candidate was then given a series of “stress interviews” to discover how well he could withstand extreme intellectual and emotional strain. He was asked, for example, to concoct a story and then defend it against merciless cross-examination while sitting in a ramrod position with a bright light shining in his eyes. To build up further tension, the examiners fired questions and accusations with increasing rapidity, till the candidate was faced with continual harassment from all sides. While he was being questioned, an observer rated his emotional control in terms of flushing, swearing, swallowing, stuttering, and other signs of tension. As soon as the stress interview was over, he was questioned under relaxed conditions in an attempt to lower his guard and break down his story.The interview tests enabled the examiners to gauge the intellectual resourcefulness, emotional stability, and security consciousness of the subjects. These characteristics were further explored in situational stress tests. One task, labeled the Wall Test, required several candidates to move a heavy eight-foot log, and themselves, over two ten-foot walls separated by a deep imaginary canyon eight feet wide. No leader was assigned to the group, but the staff noted which men took over as leaders and whether leadership shifted from one to another. These observations not only helped them locate “natural” leaders, but gave them insight into the way the men interacted with each other. To obtain an- even fuller picture of each individual, the observers also noted their energy level, initiative, and ideas, as well as their reactions when their suggestions were rejected by others.The candidates were subjected to a number of other situational stress tests. Perhaps the most frustrating was a construction task which required a man to build a five-foot cube with a set of large Tinker Toys within a given period of time. The parts were so big that he was given two assistants, who were actually psychologists secretly trained to needle him and interfere with his completion of the task. The psychologists later made an extensive report on the way the candidate handled the situation.After the three-day ordeal was over, the examiners pooled their observations, interviews, and test results to produce a final assessment of the candidate. This intensive, holistic approach yielded a massive amount of information and greatly increased the chances of choosing able men. Unfortunately their assignments were so unique and widely separated that no systematic study was made of the validity of the program, but the staff members believed it was basically successful. Moreover, they felt they had developed an approach to personality assessment which could be used in three positive ways: to select personnel for unique or important jobs, to gain further insight into personality dynamics, and to train clinical psychologists and psychiatrists (OSS Assessment Staff, 1948).Today intensive interviewing for high level positions sometimes takes on characteristics of a stress test, but the more complex situational tests used by the OSS are not administered because of the time, equipment and trained personnel they require. However, a variant of the leaderless group technique known as Leaderless Group Discussion (LGD) is widely applied in the selection of industrial executives, management trainees, military officers, teachers, and social workers. In this procedure a group is assigned a topic for discussion during a specified period, and examiners observe and rate each person’s performance. The technique has proved highly effective, since the examiners’ ratings have been found to correlate significantly with performance in actual job situations

Cite this page: N., Pam M.S., "OSS ASSESSMENT TESTS," in PsychologyDictionary.org, November 28, 2018, https://psychologydictionary.org/oss-assessment-tests/ (accessed March 16, 2019).
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