Copyright hits psychological boundary

An American university has filed a lawsuit against a New Zealand hypnotherapist for breach of copyright after he published what it describes as cheat sheet for one of its psychology tests.

A Napier-based hypnotherapist, Andrew Dobson, says he has removed from his website information about a psychological test which the University of Minnesota claims breached the copyright on a version of its Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI). The  test has been widely used by psychologists and employers to identify personality disorders and screen applicants for sensitive jobs.

Mr Dobson told Radio NZ that he had published a similar test, freely supplied to him over the internet, as a means of self analysis, and  he and his web host are now facing fines of up to $500,000.

University of Minnesota chief legal officer Mark Rotenberg says the lawsuit was filed after Mr Dobson repeatedly removed and republished the copyright material on his website over a period of several weeks. In a New York Federal court, the university said Mr Dobson had posted scoring software to provide people with feedback on their answers to test questions.

The Science Media Centre contacted senior lecturer in psychology at  Victoria University of Wellington, Dr Marc Wilson, for comment:

“The MMPI has been used an awful lot, but is a bigger deal in the US than here.  It may be used in personnel selection in NZ, but it’s use is more common in clinical settings. It’s quite expensive so that probably means some people will still be using the old version. It’s also really long so it’s not uncommon for people to prefer shorter measures.

“On the question of whether coaching can help… First, good tests will usually involve asking if someone has done the test before and use that information in scoring. It’s also common for measures to include’ lie scales’ to identify dishonest responding that can be taken into account during interpretation. It is not just a case of answering the questions in a recipe-like way.

“It’s not uncommon for people to try to present a version of themselves that they think is what is wanted from the questions, but of course you may not know what is expected. Additionally, at least in the case of job selection, it’s not just about identifying whether a person is ‘nice’ or ‘hardworking’ but also whether the job is right for them. If you diddle your scores to make it look like you’re outgoing and sociable and that means you get the job as a sales rep or front of restaurant, you could find yourself hating it.

“On the flip side (Mr Dobson’s) advice will not help people as much as they want (if at all) and could in fact be counterproductive”.