Exploring Ethical Considerations Within Tests

Medically reviewed by April Justice, LICSW
Updated April 28, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

You may have encountered psychological tests in a range of contexts, such as school, work environments, or sessions with a mental health professional. While these tools can be valuable for understanding the mind, personality, and other aspects of human psychology, they can also present a range of potential ethical issues. Before taking tests, looking at psychological testing in more detail may be helpful, including some of the key ethical considerations involved in developing and administering tests. 

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What are psychological tests?

A psychological test is a standardized instrument to measure behavior or mental attributes, such as personality characteristics, values, interests, cognitive abilities, emotional functioning, and attitudes. Also called psychometric tests, psychological tests can also be used to evaluate mental health, including by evaluating signs of psychological disorders. 

These tests may vary in length, format, and administration and may be used in various settings and contexts. For example, they may be useful in industrial and organizational psychology, which focuses on studying workplace behavior, in addition to schools, mental health clinics, research labs, and other settings.

What is the purpose of psychological testing?

A psychological test can be a key component of a psychological evaluation, often involving tests and assessments. These two tools are often used by psychologists in diagnosis and treatment. While testing can involve formal, standardized tests like checklists or questionnaires, assessments can include informal tests and surveys, observational data, and clinical interviews.

Psychological testing often aims to gather information about an individual’s unique characteristics and traits, but its applications may be broader. For example, psychological tests can look at: 

  • Personality assessment
  • Understanding and observing behavior
  • Diagnosing mental health conditions
  • Assessing performance and achievement
  • Assessing decision-making
  • Quantifying emotional intelligence or emotional responses
  • Understanding skills or skill sets
  • Assessing memory and cognition 

Due to the various reasons a psychological test may be administered, a particular test's form may vary based on the data being measured, the subject’s unique circumstances, and other factors. 

Ethical considerations within tests

Various organizations, including the American Psychological Association (APA), have laid out ethical guidelines and codes to guide best practices and avoid potential pitfalls of psychological testing and assessment. Some ethical principles that may be considered in psychological testing include the following. 


Informed consent

Obtaining informed consent from clients can be a vital ethical consideration for psychologists in testing and assessments. As the APA notes in its Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct, informed consent in assessments includes an explanation of the purpose of the assessment, fees, and involvement of third parties, as well as the opportunity for the client to ask questions.


Psychologist competence can also be vital to ensuring testing is conducted and used ethically. Ensuring that the psychologists who conduct testing develop and actively maintain the necessary knowledge and skills for this work is widely cited as a critical ethical consideration in testing. 


Ensuring that psychological tests generate valid results can also be essential to upholding professional ethics and avoiding pitfalls. Aspects to consider might include whether the test accurately measures what it aims to measure with as little room as possible for calculation errors or misinterpretation of results. 

Data integrity

It can be vital for psychological tests to be respectful of the subject’s right to personal space. According to the ethical codes in the APA Guidelines for Psychological Assessment and Evaluation, which draw from the organization’s ethics code, “It is particularly important for psychologists and assessment practitioners to strive to be aware of threats to data integrity.”


Psychologists can benefit from knowing that any standardized measurement of individual characteristics is fair to test takers, allowing them to receive impartial results and demonstrate their abilities in an unbiased setting. 


Sensitivity to diversity can also be an imperative aspect of ethical psychological testing. This aspect can include accounting for differences in cultural values and norms, as well as neurodiversity and individual differences in learning styles. 

The above areas are a few ethical considerations that can be vital in developing and administering psychological assessments. However, some areas may require more focus when working with diverse populations. 

Mental health implications

Due to the various potential uses of psychological tests in diagnosing and treating mental health conditions, it can be crucial to ensure tests are administered fairly and correctly. Ethical guidelines, codes of conduct, and other professional standards have been implemented to help professionals avoid ethical dilemmas. In the hands of a trained professional, psychological tests can be an invaluable tool for understanding the mind, diagnosing mental health conditions, and developing a treatment plan tailored to an individual’s needs. 

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Support options 

For some mental health concerns, therapy is commonly a part of suggested treatment. With hundreds of modalities to choose from, therapists can offer guidance to a diverse population of clients. However, in some cases, in-person therapy may not be accessible. In these cases, online therapy may be beneficial. 

For instance, for some individuals with a condition like social anxiety disorder, the idea of commuting to a potentially busy office and meeting with a therapist face-to-face may be intimidating. With online therapy through a platform like BetterHelp, you can virtually meet with your therapist from wherever you are most comfortable, including your home. In addition, you can set your preferences for therapy when you sign up, allowing you to match with a professional with experience in treating your challenges or symptoms. 

Online therapy is an effective alternative to in-person therapy for a range of challenges. For instance, one 2017 study found that internet-based cognitive-behavioral therapy (ICBT) was effective in treating a range of mental health conditions, including but not limited to social anxiety, generalized anxiety disorder, depression, and bipolar disorder.


Psychological tests may be used to diagnose mental health conditions, understand the mind, evaluate behavior, or gain insight into characteristics like memory, cognition, decision-making, or performance. However, a range of ethical considerations regarding psychological testing can be crucial for providers and clients, such as fairness, validity and sensitivity. Various professional and ethical guidelines have been laid to ensure these and other considerations are respected in test development and administration. 

If you have questions related to psychological testing, or you are experiencing other mental health-related concerns that you want to explore further, consider contacting a therapist online or in your area to get started.

Tests can bring up many emotions
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