What is the Scientific Basis of the Cognitive Process Profile (CPP)?

September 5, 2016 | By Paul Barrett

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This is a question that arises from time to time in connection with all of the Cognadev assessments; but it is a question that is applicable to any psychological assessment, whether “projective” (e.g. the Rorschach Ink-Blot assessment), self-report questionnaire, or performance-based assessment (e.g. ability tests, neuropsychology tests, assessment centres, situational judgement tests and the CPP).

To answer it, we must first define that word ‘science’.

From the Oxford Dictionaries:

“The intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behaviour of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment”.

From the Cambridge Dictionary:

“the careful study of the structure and behaviour of the physical world, especially by watching, measuring, and doing experiments, and the development of theories to describe the results of these activities”.

So, a ‘scientific basis’ of something seems to be associated with the application of a systematic methodology which seeks to study, observe/detect phenomena, and form causal explanations (as theories) of the observed phenomena.

Given that breadth of definition, all of the Cognadev assessments possess a ‘scientific basis’, as all are based upon prior systematic study, observation, detected phenomena, and theories which claim to explain the phenomena of interest. The Cognitive Process Profile (CPP) is based upon theories of cognition and levels of work drawn from differential, integral, and systems-theory psychology which are themselves exemplars of the application of the scientific method.

Surely there must be more to the answer than this?

Yes indeed. Because saying something has a ‘scientific basis’ is not very helpful; likewise those organisations who describe themselves or their products as “The Science of …” or “The Neuroscience of …”. All reputable publishers of psychological assessments can describe their outputs as a product of systematic observation and causal explanation for those observations; this is the basis of any science, whether quantitative like physics or non-quantitative as with linguistics and the study of non-computable phenomena/emergence within complexity theory[1].

What we really want to know when it comes to a psychological assessment or ‘test’ are the answers to three questions:

  1. Does is assess what it claims to assess?
  2. Is the assessment reliable?
  3. Does it predict that which it claims to predict?

What if a test didn’t have a ‘scientific basis’?

Well, we wouldn’t have any idea about what it’s assessing, except for what the test author personally thinks it’s assessing. We’d have no idea if it was reliable, and we’d have no idea whether its claims of prediction are accurate or mere wishful thinking. The application of scientific investigative methodology attempts to answer each of these three questions, with analytic and investigative work which is appropriate for the particular assessment.

I stress that word ‘appropriate’ here because psychologists sometimes forget that the scientific study or the assessment of some proposed attribute or phenomenon does not require that either vary as a quantity. As readers of Cognadev’s new series of comprehensive Technical and Research Manuals on the CPP and other assessments will discover, the various kinds of analytical methods we use to answer the three questions are chosen relative to the qualities of the attributes we are assessing. These methods range from simple graphical and statistical methods through to intrinsically-non-linear machine-learning techniques.

Not only that, we publish in-depth Technical Reports which investigate aspects of these three questions in great detail, far beyond that offered by any other commercial test publisher.

The Science of the CPP?

We do not use that phrase “The Science of the CPP” because it is redundant. The ‘Science’ is already an integral feature of the CPP attributes, the assessment design, construction, and validation. Furthermore, the attribute magnitudes and preferences are based upon a test-taker’s actual cognitive and behavioural performance, not their self-reports of either.

Just think, which do you trust more, measurements of a person’s

  • application of their actual cognitive capability and preference in simulated real life environments (e.g. The CPP and LOI), or
  • their ability scores as based on highly structured convergent reasoning tasks (e.g. IQ tests) or
  • their subjective perceptions and statements on their own cognitive functioning (e.g. personality test and structured interviews)?

[1] Wolfram, S (2002). A New Kind of Science. Wolfram Media Inc. ISBN: 1-57955-0088.