To be clear, the connection I am trying to make here is that personality profiling-the production of psychographic renderings of human characteristics-is not just confined to Cambridge Analytica, or to Facebook, or to the wider data analytics and advertising industries. Instead, the science of personality testing is slowly entering into education as a form of behavioural governance.
”Learning from psychographic personality profiling” connects Cambridge Analytica’s unethical and democracy-subverting psychometrics with the mindset marketing and behaviorism of education, favorite subjects of mine:
The marketing of mindsets is everywhere. Fast psycho-policy & the datafication of social-emotional learning dominate ed-tech. Grit, growth mindset, project-based mindset, entrepreneurial mindset, innovator’s mindset, and a raft of canned social-emotional skills programs are vying for public money. These notions are quickly productized, jumping straight from psychology departments to aphoristic word images shared on social media and marketing festooned on school walls.
Like every marketed mindset going back to the self-esteem movement, these campaigns are veneers on the deficit model that ignore long-standing structural problems like poverty, racism, sexism, ableism, and childism. The practice and implementation of these mindsets are always suborned by deficit ideology, bootstrap ideology, meritocracy myths, and greed.
Behaviorism and mindset marketing are no ally to neurodivergent and disabled people.
My experience with special education and ABA demonstrates how the dichotomy of interventions that are designed to optimize the quality of life for individuals on the spectrum can also adversely impact their mental health, and also their self-acceptance of an autistic identity. This is why so many autistic self-advocates are concerned about behavioral modification programs: because of the long-term effects they can have on autistic people’s mental health. This is why we need to preach autism acceptance, and center self advocates in developing appropriate supports for autistic people. That means we need to take autistic people’s insights, feelings, and desires into account, instead of dismissing them.
The past and present of behaviorism is ugly.
- Why I Left ABA | Socially Anxious Advocate
- I Abused Children For A Living – Diary Of A Birdmad girl
- I Abused Children And SO DO YOU: A Response To An ABA Apologist – Diary Of A Birdmad girl
- I’m an ABA therapist, I’ve noticed a lot of the… – neurowonderful
- I’m sorry, but that’s not earning your token
- ‘Cardgate’ Scandal Uncovers Widespread Disrespect of Autistic People | NOS Magazine
- The Misbehaviour of Behaviourists
- Applied Behaviour Analysis – Personal Reflections
- Read what one autistic adult had to say the day she realised that the therapy she went through as a child was actually ABA.
- Surveillance, Positive Behavior Support, and Intrinsic Motivation
- Mindset Marketing, Behaviorism, and Deficit Ideology
- Autistic Empathy
- The Double Empathy Problem: Developing Empathy and Reciprocity in Neurotypical Adults
Mainstream ed-tech combines the dismal ethics of tech, Silicon Valley, and market fundamentalism with the dismal ethics of behaviorism and the deficit model and mainlines it all into public ed. A representative exhibit is the now infamous Hero K12 video (which has been taken offline).
The video itself is only two and a half minutes, but the way they efficiently pack in so much of what is wrong in schooling today is remarkable. To put it bluntly, it was a bunch of behaviorist garbage. It makes the argument that students are animals that need to be conditioned to do what is expected of them through punishments and rewards. This is music to many educators’ ears, because they all know from their teacher training that the foremost priority in school is classroom management. And when classroom management is taken care of, then they can focus on what really matters-test scores.
The punishments and rewards continue to compound on themselves. Chris gets to go to the pep rally later in the day where he can let loose and have fun. Chris is a good boy, and gets to do good boy things. Jill, however, is a bad girl, so she must go to detention instead of going to the pep rally. Perhaps making Jill sit in a room by herself while everyone else is having fun will teach her to ‘act right.’
Hero K12 reaffirms everything that is perceived to be right with Chris, and everything that is perceived to be wrong with Jill.
Canned social-emotional skills programs, behaviorism, and the marketing of mindsetshave serious side effects. They reinforce the cult of compliance and encourage submission to authoritarian rule. They line the pockets of charlatans and profiteers. They encourage surveillance and avaricious data collection. Deficit model capitalism’s data-based obsession proliferates hucksterism and turns kids into someone’s business model. The behaviorism of PBS is of the mindset of abusers and manipulators. It is ideological and intellectual kin with ABA, which autistic people have roundly rejected as abusive, coercive, and manipulative torture. We call it autistic conversion therapy.
Behaviorism and mindset marketing are incompatible with neurodiversity and the social model of disability. We in the neurodiversity and disability communities should reject them from our schools. They are gaslighting. They compromise agency. They break down a person’s ability to self-advocate and say NO. This is the exact wrong thing to be doing.
“Noncompliance is a social skill“. “Prioritize teaching noncompliance and autonomy to your kids. Prioritize agency.” “It’s of crucial importance that behavior based compliance training not be central to the way we parent, teach, or offer therapy to autistic children. Because of the way it leaves them vulnerable to harm, not only as children, but for the rest of their lives.” Disabled kids “are driven to comply, and comply, and comply. It strips them of agency. It puts them at risk for abuse.” “The most important thing a developmentally disabled child needs to learn is how to say “no.” If they only learn one thing, let it be that.” “When an autistic teen without a standard means of expressive communication suddenly sits down and refuses to do something he’s done day after day, this is self-advocacy … When an autistic person who has been told both overtly and otherwise that she has no future and no personhood reacts by attempting in any way possible to attack the place in which she’s been imprisoned and the people who keep her there, this is self-advocacy … When people generally said to be incapable of communication find ways of making clear what they do and don’t want through means other than words, this is self-advocacy.” “We don’t believe that conventional communication should be the prerequisite for your loved one having their communication honored.”
Tools and methods used to manipulate voters and elections are in our schools amplifying and spreading the misbehavior of behaviorism. These forces are harmful to all kids, but particularly neurodivergent and disabled kids.
The ways education policy is becoming a kind of behavioural science, supported by intimate data collected about psychological characteristics or even neural information about students, is the central focus of this ongoing work. Expert knowledge about students is increasingly being mediated through an edu-data analytics industry, which is bringing new powers to see into the hidden and submerged depths of students’ cognition, brains and emotions, while also allowing ed-tech companies and policymakers to act ‘smarter’, in real-time and predictively, to intervene in and shape students’ futures.
Having possession of a vast quantified personality database would clearly grant power to any organization wishing to find ways to engage, coerce, trigger or nudge people to think or behave in certain ways-advertisers, say, or propagandists. Whether it worked in Cambridge Analytica’s case remains open to debate-though I think Jamie Bartlett is right to understand this as just one example of a shift to new forms of behavioural government in the wider field of politics. Mark Whitehead and colleagues call it ‘neuroliberalism‘-a style of behavioural governance that applies psychology, neuroscience and behavioural sciences methods and expertise to public policy and government action-and convincingly show how it has been installed in governments and businesses around the world. In education we have already seen how organizations such as the Behavioural Insights Team(‘Nudge Unit’) are being contracted to provide policy-relevant insights based on psychological and behavioural expertise and knowledge.
While the OECD is only measuring student personality, the inevitable outcome for any countries with disappointing results is that they will want to improve students’ personalities and character to ensure their competitiveness in the global race.
While ClassDojo is currently popular as a classroom app for supporting growth mindset and character development, it is certainly conceivable that it could be used to promote and reward the Big Five (its website says it is also compatible with Positive Behavioural Interventions and Support, a US Department of Education program, for example-it’s flexible to market demands). It’s not a huge leap to link ClassDojo to psychographic personality profiling-ClassDojo’s founders have openly described being inspired by economist James Heckman, and Heckman helped shape the OECD’s views on the links between personality and economic productivity.
Given current developments in personality testing, character development and social-emotional skills modification, maybe we can paraphrase Jamie Bartlett to suggest that not only are politics drifting to behavioural government, but education policy and practice too are beginning to embrace a behavioural science of algorithm-based triggers and nudges which are tuned to personality and mood. Education appears to be generating more intimate data from students, mining beneath the surface of their knowledge to capture interior details about their personality, character and emotions. Policymakers, test developers and ed-tech producers may not openly say so, but just like Cambridge Analytica they are seeking to learn from psychographic personality profiling.