I've seen personality tests and industrial / organizational psychology tests that force one to choose between non-opposing concepts. What is the name of this question style, and what are the reasons to use it over a more standard question style that forces you to choose between opposing pairs?

Example questions:

In general, I prefer [Assertiveness / Clear communication]

I prefer my direct reports to be [Self-directed / Punctual]


2 Answers 2


Short answer
Forced-choice task

You have answered your own question:

...tests that force one to choose...

Such tests are generally referred to as forced-choice tests in psychophysics. There are many applications of these tests. In general, AFC tasks are less biased than for example yes/no tasks (Yushurun et al, 2008). A sample paper on an AFC test for personality testing is Christiansen et al. (2005).

- Christiansen et al. Human Performance (2005); 18(3): 267-307
- yushurun et al. Vis Res (2008); 48(17): 1837-51

  • $\begingroup$ It's my understanding that forced-choice also refers to yes / no, A / B, less / more, or similar formats, yes? I'm more interested in the non-opposite or unrelated pairing aspect of the questions than the two-option answer aspect. Is there even a word to describe the specific type of question that pairs options that lie on entirely unrelated axes? Or am I mistaken in thinking that forced-choice refers to all of them? $\endgroup$ Feb 6, 2020 at 20:58
  • $\begingroup$ @BenNilsson - I think they apply to all, given the linked Christiansen paper, but I am unsure to be honest. $\endgroup$
    – AliceD
    Feb 8, 2020 at 11:38

Like AliceD's answer says, this is a form of forced-choice task used to assay preferences.

These measures are used especially when there is no good counterpart on the opposite side: there is no spectrum to consider. Let's think about your examples:

In general, I prefer [Assertiveness / Clear communication]

I prefer my direct reports to be [Self-directed / Punctual]

What would the "opposite" versions of these be? Some possibilities:

In general, I prefer [Assertiveness / Passiveness]

In general, I prefer [Opaque communication / clear communication]

I prefer my direct reports to be [Self-directed / Micromanaged]

I prefer my direct reports to be [Late / Punctual]

With the exception of maybe the third one (level of oversight), the counterparts are not really that informative. No one wants their employees to be late, but someone might not mind so much if someone is late as long as they manage themselves. The test is trying to get at what your desires are when you weight dissimilar things against each other.

Another example might be food preferences: are sweet and sour opposites?

What about someone that likes, say, fruit flavors - those are both sweet and sour - you need a way to find that someone prefers sweet+sour over savory, or to find that another person likes sweet and savory foods, but doesn't like sour ones.

Other options in this circumstance might be to rank-order possibilities, but in general giving people just 2 options allows them to more quickly make a determination. You can develop rank orders later by analyzing the results of the individual paired items.


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