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November 2002 Issue

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Using the Personal Orientation Inventory (POI) to Measure Psychological Attributes that Prevent Academic Success

By Gary K. Probst



Many years ago our college gave all entering students the Personal Orientation Inventory (POI).  The reason this test was administered at that time was that the human potential movement and value clarification was the current fad.  The guidance department of our college tested all incoming students with the POI test and them required them to take classes in developing their human potential.  Those of us who taught developmental reading courses were also required to take the training to lead human potential courses.  At this time we discovered a strong correlation between certain scales of the POI test and reading comprehension scores.  I will explain later the scales that were correlated with low reading scores.


What happened to the human potential movement?

The promoters of this human potential movement claimed their training would increase a person’s ability or potential to do ANYTHING by completing a series of what was actually personality changing exercises.  These exercises were in a workbook the students purchased.  Students or trainees were given the POI test before they started the human potential training.  At my college the POI test scores were never looked at by the instructors teaching the human potential classes.  The individual student POI score sheets were locked in a file cabinet.


At this time our college and other colleges throughout the nation gave human potential courses so that the students would be able to develop college level reading and study skills by taking what amounted to personality changing exercises lead by people who were not trained psychologists.  The validity of the claims by those who were promoting human potential training were similar to the claims made in the musical, The Music Man, by the professor who came to River City claiming he could teach students to play any instrument by humming.


This movement ended after the promoters sold human potential seminars to many companies.  The purpose of this training was to increase worker’s productivity.  A television program like 20/20, I forget which one, had a special about this movement many years ago.  A utility company in the West required all of its employees to take this training.  The utility company’s training department claimed the workers were now 40 percent more productive as a result of human potential training.  No one seemed to question the claim that workers could now move forty percent faster.


 A lawsuit by several employees claiming this utility company’s required “training” changed their personality in a way that damaged their personal life exposed the fraudulent claims of the promoters of the human potential training courses.   Because of the large settlement the utility company had to pay to settle this lawsuit, this type of human potential training soon ended. 


Also, at this time colleges dropped the human potential courses, and they were soon forgotten. 


What is the Personal Orientation Inventory (POI) by Everett L. Shostrom?

The POI test is based on the concept of the self-actualizing person as defined by Maslow.  The inventory consists of 150 two-choice value and behavior items and is scored for two major scales plus 10 sub-scales: time ratio, support ratio, self-actualizing value, existentiality, feeling reactivity, spontaneity, self-regard, self-acceptance, nature of man, synergy, acceptance of aggression, and capacity for intimate contact.  The reading level of the test is on a level that should not prevent any student from understanding any of the questions.  They test takes approximately 30 minutes to administer.  There is no time limit.


While this test does not appear to be currently widely used as in the past, an Internet search found it was still being used in diverse studies such as the following:


  1. The Evaluation of a Self-Development Programme for Managers in a Corporate Pharmacy Group in South Africa
  2. The Interplay of Autonomy and Relatedness in Hong Kong Chinese Single Mothers


What information does the test provide that is helpful to the learning center staff to assist students?

The POI test provides several ratios that directly relate to the cognitive readiness to learn new information.  These cognitive attributes are not measured by current tests being used in learning centers.  The following ratios provide information on how certain cognitive functions are helping or preventing acquiring new information.

Time Ratio Scale
The Time Ratio Scale measures the degree to which a person is “present” orientated.  A ratio is given on how much time a person is time competent and time incompetent.   A time competent person is able to tie the past and future to the present in a way to promote his or her goals.  This person can concentrate on what is required of them now.  In other word, his or her thinking is on the task he or she presently needs to complete.  His or her mind is not wandering to happening in the past or future wishful thinking.

A person who is time-incompetent in the past thinking is concentrated on guilt, regret, remorse, blame and resentment.  A person who is time-incompetent in the future is thinking about idealized goals, plans, expectations, predictions and fears.  This person could be an obsessive worrier. 

It was found that students who had low reading comprehension scores were highly time-incompetent.  Could being time-incompetent prevent a student from concentrating on what he or she is reading because their mind keeps wandering?

Other/Inner Ratio
The Other/Inner Ratio scale measures how much the person is influenced by others.  An inner-directed person is guided by his or her goals and motivations rather than the goals and motivations of others.  An inner-directed person believes he or she controls his or her destiny.   An other-directed person is influenced by the goals and motivations of others.  This person believes others control what will happen to him or her.

If was found that students who had low reading scores were highly other-directed.  Could this be because his or her peer group was preventing him or her from doing the studying required for academic success?

Existentiality Scale
The Existentiality scale measures how flexible a person is to new ideas.  People with low scores hold their values so rigidly that they become dogmatic and will not change their behavior.   People with high scores will change their values to incorporate new ways of doing things.

If was found that students who had low reading scores also had a low score on the Existentiality Scale.  Could it be this is the type of student who keeps applying unsuccessful study techniques and will not change his or her study habits to become a successful student?

Where can this test be purchased?

For information about purchasing this test and a handbook on how to interpret it go to http://www.acer.edu.au/index3.html or call 800.416.1666.



1.       In the past there have been many doctorial dissertations using this test especially in the field of nursing.  It would be interesting to see a study relating the scores on this test to reading comprehension test scores and students’ grade point averages.

2.       Because this test is easy to score and inexpensive, it could be administered to students who come to a learning center for assistance.  Reviewing with the student his or her POI test scores would be an excellent place to begin a discussion with the student on the psychological factors that are preventing his or her academic success.  The counselor could ask the following kinds of questions after showing the student his or her POI test scores:

a.       Low time-competence ratio score:
1.  Do you have some problem(s) that you keep thinking about?
2.  Everyone’s mind wanders, where does your mind wander - To happenings in the
      past or what could or would you like to happen in the future?

b.       Other-direction ratio score:
1.  Are you now doing what you want to do?
2.  Are other people influencing your decisions and what is currently happening
     to you?
3.  Do the people you associate with have the same academic goals?
4.  Do your associates support and help you achieve your academic goals?

c.       Low existentiality scale:
1.  What study habits are preventing you from being a successful student and
      must be changed?
2.  Why is it you do not want to apply or cannot not apply the study skills taught in the learning center?

3.       If a student is time-incompetent, other-directed, and has low existentiality score, these problems need to be addressed before introducing college reading and study skills.  Changing these attributes needs to be given immediate priority so that the student will apply the college reading and study skills that are introduced.  If the student is unable or unwilling to change, he or she should be made aware he or she is the cause of their lack of academic success.



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