back to article Bogus gov online test tells people on dole they're just SO employable

Bloggers have discovered that the Department for Work and Pensions is using an obviously defective personality test in a bid to get jobseekers off the dole and into work. The psychometric test in question is supposedly designed to assess an unemployed person’s “signature strengths”. However, it was actually primed to give …

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  1. Ralph B
    Boffin

    Applied Placebo Effect?

    I suspect they're trying to apply the placebo effect and if it really is evidence-based, as they claim, then it may well be working. Or at least it was until The Reg comes along and tells everyone it's nonsense.

    It's nearly always wrong to say "it's just a placebo" since placebos demonstrably do work. (That's why it's called an "effect") In this case I think it's going something like this:

    1) Ask applicants a long series of important sounding questions;

    2) Ignore answers given;

    3) Pay applicants a series of compliments which will boost their self-esteem and motivation by some small measure;

    4) Applicants now have a slightly better chance of getting a job.

    The results will be measurable - and are most probably in the claimed evidence. As such it is a Good Thing and doesn't really need being exposed to derision. (Or indeed potentially bubble-bursting explanations from myself.)

    Sometimes we should just "Shush!", pretend to take it all very seriously, and let the magic of science (yes, even psychology!) do its thing.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Applied Placebo Effect?

      Does placebo still work if you know it's a placebo?

      1. Number6

        Re: Applied Placebo Effect?

        Psychology only works on the unaware.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Does placebo still work if you know it's a placebo?

        There is evidence that it does, yes. See for example http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2010/dec/22/placebo-effect-patients-sham-drug.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re:Does placebo still work if you know it's a placebo?

        yes, but in the opposite direction. Although, if you're unemployed, I can't see how you can become less unemployed. I guess they would say you're even less employable...

      4. mtp

        Re: Applied Placebo Effect?

        Crazy as it sounds it actually does. When I was a teenager I had asthma and I had a inhaler that relieved the symptoms for a few hours. Unfortunately I could only use it a few times per day so each use tended to run out before I could take the next one. The first step in using it was to give it a vigorous shake and I noticed that my symptoms got better during the shake before I actually used it. I experimented with this and as long as I only did it occasionally just shaking the inhaler and not using it helped for about 10 minutes. Very strange and I don't understand it but true.

        1. Pookietoo

          Re: Very strange and I don't understand it but true.

          That's classic Pavlovian conditioned response.

    2. Steve 13
      Thumb Down

      Re: Applied Placebo Effect?

      If everyone takes the "test" and everyone has their self esteem raised....

      Then the chances of each individual getting a job are unchanged.

      1. cnapan

        Re: Applied Placebo Effect?

        No not necessarily true.

        Someone resigned to life on the dole in a shithole of a place where there's no work to be had, with no chance of it in the future may be helped out of the well of depression just enough to realise that if they go somewhere there *are* jobs.

        Right now, the system doesn't do anything at all for people who, through birth, have found themselves where the jobs aren't and are never likely to be again.

        I'd prefer the government gave help to allow people to relocate from jobless shitholes and retrain, rather than subsidise a miserable wasted life on the dole... it'd be cheaper for a start, wouldn't it, despite the initial outlay, what with them ending up as economically productive people again who in turn create economic demand?

        1. Corinne

          Re: Applied Placebo Effect?

          Sadly it's no longer a case of areas where there are jobs vs areas where there aren't. Instead it's areas where unemployment is higher or lower than the average - I don't think there are any areas in the UK where there are more jobs than job seekers nowadays.

          1. BrownishMonstr Bronze badge

            Re: Applied Placebo Effect?

            I think it's the Government's fault for investing a lot in London and little elsewhere.

      2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: Applied Placebo Effect?

        "If everyone takes the "test" and everyone has their self esteem raised...."

        But if some people took it again - their esteem would be doubled each time

    3. skwalker1964

      Re: Applied Placebo Effect?

      You've forgotten one (should really be #1):

      Terrify applicant by threatening to sanction their benefits if they don't comply.

      That's what makes this really sinister - and probably illegal, since the 'jobseekers' direction' doesn't even meet the DWP's own validity criteria: http://skwalker1964.wordpress.com/2013/04/24/dwp-fake-psych-test-order-illegal-according-to-dwp/

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Terrify applicant ...

        http://arxiv.org/abs/1304.4928

        "If cooperation is likely punish mildly: Insights from economic experiments based on the snowdrift game"

    4. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge

      Re: Applied Placebo Effect? @ Ralph B

      If this came before me in my role as member of a research ethics committee, it wouldn't get past me. It is sneaky, unethical, and just plain lying. Far better to be honest and say "Actually, there are some areas you need to improve, because at the moment you need support/treatment/just sit still while we send the nice men in clean white coats round". Actual therapists and counsellors with their minds on helping the individual (not meeting targets) are required, since many long-term unemployed really do need a chance to look at life a different way, and realise that they at least have the potential to be someone that matters. Issuing platitudes like Sirius Cybernetics Corporation's products is not going to help anyone.

  2. Number6

    Positive Thinking

    They have to be positive about it, imagine the effect if they did actually give an answer telling someone he was an obnoxious little shit and they fully understood why no one had employed him.

    1. Uffish

      Re: Positive Thinking

      Yes but somewhere along the line there has to be some element of reality. This "test" is just crap.

      I don't think mindless platitudes will motivate your obnoxious little shit (are all the unemployed like that?).

  3. Philolai
    Stop

    Is this The Register...

    ...or The Daily Mail? The Behavioural Insights Team seems to do good work - see, for example, the work they did on changing Council Tax demands to increase the response rate. I don't see what's wrong in trying different things to see what works in getting people back into work and then implementing those things which are shown to have a positive effect. As long as it's cost-effective I don't care if they propose taking every benefit recipient on a day trip to the zoo.

    We must be lead by evidence, and not be put off things because they sound a bit silly.

    1. Steve 13

      Re: Is this The Register...

      Is there any evidence that this particular bit of policy is being lead by any evidence?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: is there any evidence

        yes, it's evident that the evidence is, that the spokesperson says it is evidence-based. Never mind the actual evidence of this evidence, we all know that excel sheets can go wrong, take my word for it, I'm a spokesperson of a Government Department.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Is this The Register...

      After a spike in car thefts, a police force ran a campaign to encourage people to park their cars in garages. When it didn't work, they realised why: as with lofts, most people’s garages are full of junk, which means they can’t park their cars. So the police placed skips on each road, with a notice saying they’re free for dumping garage rubbish. “Hey presto – the skips were filled, the cars were put away and car thefts went down,” [David Halpern, director of the 'Nudge Unit'] recalls. “That’s the lesson we’re learning — make it easy for people. Sounds obvious, but often that isn’t what we do in government.”

      Then there’s Halpern’s pet project — one he’s initially coy to share — on the subject of testicular cancer. Persuading men to check themselves regularly is one thing, he says. But even when they do, they’re unsure what to feel for. “So my idea is giving out a squeezable executive toy, containing a healthy testicle shape and an abnormal shape,” he grins. “It’s just another subtle way to educate people.”

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Persuading men to check themselves

        this is a woman's job!

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Persuading men to check themselves

          re: womans' job

          I don't know about yours, but I don't think mine knows what a cancerous testicle feels like. Come to think of it, neither do I.

          I just asked her, and she said no.

      2. John Smith 19 Gold badge
        Happy

        Re: Is this The Register...

        "“So my idea is giving out a squeezable executive toy, containing a healthy testicle shape and an abnormal shape,” he grins. “It’s just another subtle way to educate people.”"

        Now try that with prostrate cancer.

        Not quite so easy.

    3. skwalker1964

      Re: Is this The Register...

      From my reseatch on the topic, it appears that the council tax thing was a case of, er, 'overclaiming' by the BIT. The changes were planned before they got involved and would have happened anyway..

    4. John Smith 19 Gold badge
      Happy

      Re: Is this The Register...

      "he Behavioural Insights Team seems to do good work - see, for example, the work they did on changing Council Tax demands to increase the response rate."

      That's admirable.

      Do they ever stare at goats also?

  4. Dave 126 Silver badge

    "You have a way of looking at the world that makes sense to others and to yourself."

    Haha, that made me think of Rab C. Nesbitt...

    Here's Rab making his views clear to all down the dole office:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8k7VoFiagfs

  5. TaffiaCapoDeTuttiCapo

    Flawed approach to a layered one

    A missing piece of the puzzle at last!

    Welfare spending needs to be cut as it's unsustainable and Government policy over the last 30 years has created a sense of entitlement amongst the poorest and most marginalised, stifling social mobility.

    They need 4 things to make it work:

    1. The threat of phased benefits cuts (stick).

    2. Increased spending on vocational skills that employers actually need (recently proposed in parliament by Gove).

    3. Creation of jobs through investment (tax breaks for companies etc).

    4. A comprehensive information operations (PsyOps) plan to provide Normative Social Influence strong enough to overcome the innate sense of entitlement and surety in the person collecting benefits.

    This test is obviously a very poorly implemented #4

    I expect to see much stronger images and propaganda in the media in future as this "being on benefits harms the country/destroys your children's future" message is pushed out.

    Problem is that most people who are on benefits live in close proximity to others who are also on benefits and they affirm one another's actions.

    BTW I don't agree with elements of this, but it is interesting to watch...

    1. Corinne

      Re: Flawed approach to a layered one

      Um doesn't your argument rely on the assumption that people who are out of work are self-entitled layabouts who don't see the point in working if they can live off the state? And presumably live quite well, as you recommend cutting benefits thereby implying that people could still keep a roof over their heads, eat, and even occasionally have luxuries like toilet roll, or washing powder, or shower gel, on less money than the current JSA.

      1. TaffiaCapoDeTuttiCapo

        Re: Flawed approach to a layered one

        Not at all. But coming from a working class background and seeing it first hand, the people who want to work will always find a way of overcoming adversity, especially when help is afforded us. The intractable white elephant in the room that no one wants to address is the dependency culture that has been created. I'm not vilifying anyone, just stating that if the government are going to deal with this sub-group of benefit claimants, they have to use a multi-layered approach. Cutting the legs out from beneath people on benefits through cuts without additional measures will only lead to civil unrest. Probably on the scale we saw in Croydon.

        1. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge

          Re: Flawed approach to a layered one

          I agree. I have rarely ever met anyone that doesn't work in that background (I'm from the same working class background as you). Many work "on the side" because they couldn't afford to lose the benefits, some put a great deal of effort into getting as much money out of the system as they can, others steal, and many look after elderly/sick/young relatives and get absolutely no money whatsoever for it from the State or anywhere else.

          There aren't that many "layabouts" - it is a product of the Protestant work-ethic we're saddled with that makes some kinds of work better than others. Let's have a basic income for everyone, and then let people choose how to live their lives.

          1. TaffiaCapoDeTuttiCapo

            Re: Flawed approach to a layered one

            Lol! I know what you mean, my dad used to say that if people put as much effort into doing the things they should be doing as avoiding them...

            The situation where people who work have to 'top up' their wages with benefits because of poor wages is abhorrent. Everyone who works should get a wage that they can live on.

            Viva la Revolution!

          2. Vic

            Re: Flawed approach to a layered one

            > Many work "on the side" because they couldn't afford to lose the benefits

            This is the core of the problem, IMHO.

            In an effort to reduce the overall benefits bill, assorted governments have made it very easy to come off benefits, but very hard to get back on if it all falls through.

            I'd like to see a phased return; you keep your benefits in return for ~60% tax rate at your job.

            Vic.

  6. BD 1
    FAIL

    The domain registration of behaviourlibrary.com is revealing. Not British but American. What cr*p have the Government been buying from the US cod psycho pedlars?

    Registered through: Apis Networks

    Domain Name: BEHAVIOURLIBRARY.COM

    Created on: 17-Nov-11

    Expires on: 17-Nov-13

    Last Updated on: 18-Sep-12

    Registrant:

    Domains By Proxy, LLC

    DomainsByProxy.com

    14747 N Northsight Blvd Suite 111, PMB 309

    Scottsdale, Arizona 85260

    United States

    Administrative Contact:

    Private, Registration BEHAVIOURLIBRARY.COM@domainsbyproxy.com

    Domains By Proxy, LLC

    DomainsByProxy.com

    14747 N Northsight Blvd Suite 111, PMB 309

    Scottsdale, Arizona 85260

    United States

    (480) 624-2599 Fax -- (480) 624-2598

    Technical Contact:

    Private, Registration BEHAVIOURLIBRARY.COM@domainsbyproxy.com

    Domains By Proxy, LLC

    DomainsByProxy.com

    14747 N Northsight Blvd Suite 111, PMB 309

    Scottsdale, Arizona 85260

    United States

    (480) 624-2599 Fax -- (480) 624-2598

    Domain servers in listed order:

    NS1.APISNETWORKS.COM

    NS2.APISNETWORKS.COM

    Registry Status: clientDeleteProhibited

    Registry Status: clientRenewProhibited

    Registry Status: clientTransferProhibited

    Registry Status: clientUpdateProhibited

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Fail yourself.

      Just because the registrar is an American firm tells you nothing about who the actual registrant is, particularly since they're using an anonymisation service.

      1. Number6

        Re: Fail yourself.

        behaviourlibrary.com appears to be hosted in Atlanta, Georgia. It still doesn't tell you who the registrant is, but it does mean the data is available to the US government.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Sounds as effective...

      As plastic handles labelled "Bomb detectors"!

  7. swampdog

    "Since The Register phoned the Department of Work and Pensions for a comment, the test appears to have been fixed up a bit in that you can no longer simply click through and get results without answering any questions."

    Opera->ctrl U->SaveAs strength00.htm

    $ diff -u strengths00.htm strengths01.htm

    --- strengths00.htm 2013-04-25 10:23:39.593750000 +0100

    +++ strengths01.htm 2013-04-25 10:16:55.046875000 +0100

    @@ -32,7 +32,7 @@

    saveAnswer(form);

    currentQuestion++;

    changeQuestion(form);

    - form.next.disabled = true;

    + form.next.disabled = false;

    };

    function previousButton(form) {

    @@ -129,7 +129,7 @@

    }

    function atLeastOneRadio() {

    - return ($$('input[type=radio]:checked').size() > 0);

    + return ($$('input[type=radio]:checked').size() >= 0);

    }

    </script>

    Drag back into Opera. Click first element. Now you too can continue to skip the remainder of the questions. Bearing in mind I know nothing about web development does this make me a genius or a subversive git? I suspect it's more the case the page code is so "obvious" that even I can stumble upon their quick "fixes".

    1. John G Imrie Silver badge
      Black Helicopters

      It makes you ...

      an evil computer hacker.

      Please lie on the floor with your head towards the door. A behavioural correction worker will be with you soon.

      Thank you for your cooperation.

  8. theastrodragon
    Devil

    Plenty of jobs

    "El Reg took the test and deliberately chose the most negative answers. This should have painted a picture of a sociopathic layabout who is violently opposed to work, totally devoid of intellect and incapable of treating other people with anything but venomous contempt."

    Of course you're employable. You sound like perfect material for a job as a Member of Parliament.

    1. Tel Starr
      Joke

      Re: Plenty of jobs

      Actually that sounds about right for an El Reg reporter.

  9. BD 1
    Alert

    The net archive on behaviourlibrary.com is also curious.A huge list of papers on behaviour.

    http://web.archive.org/web/20120527223918/http://behaviourlibrary.com/

  10. Brewster's Angle Grinder Silver badge
    Coat

    But even if you prove these wankers have done something illegal, they'll only change the law to make it retrospectively legal. I don't have a coat so I'll take any one that's spare.

  11. Dr Scrum Master
    WTF?

    Question 1: I'm curious about the world which is unlike me...

    Question 4: but museums are on my way anyway

    Question 5: they're mixing tenses!

    Question 8: I don't have any friends...

    Question 18: ditto

    Question 19: it wasn't last month...

    now I'm bored...

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Essex

    the DWP said the test had only been used in Essex...

    That's all right then :-)

    1. skwalker1964

      Re: Essex

      Yes they did - which is another outright lie, since the instruction letter to take this test was given to a claimant some 300 miles north of there.

    2. Kubla Cant Silver badge

      Re: Essex

      I though this test was on the Internet. Does Essex have its own Intranet?

  13. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
    Unhappy

    In a world in which printing money is seen as a fix for economic problems, "deficits don't matter" and "we owe it to ourselves" while trillion dollar bailouts make sure the deep wallets of the Well-Connected-Ones stay topped up with minimal effort at the cost of the taxpayer and their children, who is astonished about such little smalltime retardation?

  14. Tom 13
    Joke

    Wait a minute!

    Isn't a a sociopathic layabout who is violently opposed to work, totally devoid of intellect and incapable of treating other people with anything but venomous contempt exactly the sort of person The Register is looking for to write articles?

  15. wowfood
    Joke

    El Reg took the test and deliberately chose the most negative answers. This should have painted a picture of a sociopathic layabout who is violently opposed to work, totally devoid of intellect and incapable of treating other people with anything but venomous contempt.

    So you filled it in with the same answers of the average commentard?

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