KSAOs/Individual Differences

Can Behaving in a Socially Desirable Fashion Equal Faking?

Many organizations utilizing a personality assessment as part of their selection system also include a measure of social desirability, to identify applicants who may be trying to “fake” the assessment. The term social desirability is used to describe applicant faking as responding to items in ways that make the applicant appear more favorable in the eyes of the hiring manager. Operationalizing applicant faking in this way has long been the norm for test developers, researchers, and users; however, there has been a recent push to take a step back and redefine what these social desirability scales actually measure.

How Social Desirability Scales Work

Social desirability scales typically contain items which resemble the following:
  • I try to follow the rules.
  • I would never cheat on my taxes.
  • I would never take things that aren’t mine.
The logic being that it is very unlikely for there to be a person who “always” follows the rules, “never” cheats, or “never” steals — thus the greater the number of these items an applicant affirmatively responds to, the more likely it is that they are engaging in socially desirable responding.

Why They Can Be Problematic

The difficulty present when using social desirability scales to identify applicants who may be trying to fake an assessment, is that there has been little research demonstrating a strong statistical relationship between scores on social desirability scales and observed applicant faking. Additionally, social desirability scales are themselves susceptible to being faked! For these reasons, it is unlikely that these types of scales will be useful for correctly identifying applicants who are purposefully attempting to fake, and particularly problematic for attempting to statistically “correct” assessment scores.

Implications for Practice

Organizations worried about applicants attempting to fake their assessments would be best served to follow these suggestions:
  1. Where possible, utilize multiple assessments in selection systems.
  2. Include assessments which are less susceptible to “faking”.
  3. Consider adding assessments which do not rely on applicant self-reports.
  4. Cease attempts to statistically “correct” applicant scores based on results from social desirability scales.
  5. Most importantly, follow up with applicants suspected of faking.

Interpretation by:

Kathleen Melcher

The DeGarmo Group

This was a summary of the research and practice implications from: Griffith, R.L., & Peterson, M.H. (2008). The Failure of Social Desirability Measures to Capture Applicant Faking Behavior. Industrial and Organizational Psychology, 1, 308-311.