Test: How Susceptible To Shellshock Would You Have Been in WW1

Woodworth Psychoneurotic Inventory: Often cited as the first personality test, the WPI was developed by the United States military during World War I to screen for recruits at high risk of developing shell shock. Finished too late to be put to such use, the WPI instead found its place as the dominant self-report personality measure in academic psychological research during the 1920s and 30s, but has mostly been forgotten since then.


A couple aspects of thisĀ amuse me:

Your score on the Woodworth Psychoneurotic Inventory was 41 out of 116. Higher scores indicate more neuroticism. A graph of how other people who have taken the WPI on this website have scored is below.

Just based on the graph, the normal range seems to be 20 to 55, with scores of 10 or less being very low and scores of 65 or more being very high. But this is very different from what the original interpretation guidelines say. Franz (1919) reported that the average White individual scored only 10 and recommended that people who scored higher than twenty should be suspected of instability. By this metric, 81.86% of our modern sample is psychologically unstable, which seems unlikely! Other sources from that era also report much lower scores, Papurt (1930) reports average scores by gender, here are his numbers compared to ours:

1930 Today
Males 19.34 (n=50) 32.8 (n=3116)
Females 19.92 (n=50) 39.2 (n=4753)

The great magnitude of the difference seems inexplicable. It is, of course, quite possible that average levels of mental instability have increased over time, and other datasets do show this trend. Twenge (2010) analyzed administrations of the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory from 1938 to 2007 and found increases on all clinical scales, such that five times as many people now meet the original cutoffs for psychopathology. That change on the MMPI is not outside the realm of plausibility, but that magnitude of the change here is just too staggering to believe: it is hard to see how almost everyone today could have lower mental health than almost everyone a century ago.

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  1. Jucinda Willoughby
    Posted June 11, 2017 at 11:53 am | Permalink

    I suspect it is an increase in estrogen increasing environmental factors., causing hormonal imbalances.

  2. Vi
    Posted June 12, 2017 at 6:39 am | Permalink

    I got a 20. Of course some of the questions I wasn’t sure if they were supposed to be current status or ever in your life. For instance, the question about wetting the bed – I definitely did as a small child (like pretty much all small children!) but not since I was 6 or so – so was that a yes or a no? I ended up saying yes for that one and a couple other similar ones.

  3. Christine Shah
    Posted June 20, 2017 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

    My score was 11. LOL. I guess I am not bothered by much. I have had an unusually stable and happy life. It seems doubtful that this is a reliable predictor of my susceptibility to shellshock. Perhaps I am less prepared than soneone who has had a rougher go of it!

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