Date of this Version
From: The Computer and the Decision-Making Process, edited by Terry B. Gutkin and Steven L. Wise (Hillsdale, New Jersey, Hove & London: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1991) .
Major developments in the behavioral assessment field have occurred over the past decade (e.g., Barlow, 1981 ; Ciminero, Calhoun, & Adams , 1986; Haynes & Wilson, 1979; Mash & Terdal, 1988a). The use of computer technology by behavioral assessors has occurred, but this is a relatively recent development (Kratochwill, Doll, & Dickson, 1986; Romanczyk, 1986). Consider, for example, that behavioral assessment texts include little discussion of computer applications and many articles restrict discussion of behavioral assessment to observational measures (see Cone & Hawkins, 1977, for an exception). In psychology and education, issues of journals have been devoted to computer applications in assessment and treatment (e.g., Bennett & Maher, 1984; McCullough & Wenck, 1984a) and these have generally included articles describing applications in the behavioral field.
Developments in computer technology are important in behavioral assessment for a number of reasons. First, although many current applications of computer technology in psychology and education have focused on traditional testing, test scoring, and report generation, there is the potential for application of this technology across a wide range of behavioral measures on various adult and childhood behavior disorders (Reynolds, McNamara, Marion, & Tobin , 1985). Applications (to be reviewed in this chapter) already include interviews, checklists and rating scales, direct observation, self-monitoring, and psychophysiological measures. Thus, the technology available may facilitate behavioral analysis and treatment design, and monitoring across these measures.
Second, computers offer special benefits in practice by reducing the time and cost of assessment. While this might be considered an advantage of computerassessment applications generally, it is a special feature that should be considered by behavioral assessors. Traditionally, behavioral assessment has been considered very time consuming and costly for use in applied settings. Surveys of practitioners who have engaged in behavioral assessment practices have provided feedback suggesting time and cost limitations (e.g., Anderson, Cancelli, & Kratochwill, 1984), and these dimensions have, in part, explained the reliance on more traditional tests by behavioral assessors (Mash & Terdal, 1988b).
Third, and related, computer technology may help standardize behavioral assessment on procedural and psychometric dimensions. In the past, behavioral assessment has not been highly standardized, even though a movement in this direction could be positive (e.g., Cone & Hawkins, 1977; Kratochwill, 1985; Mash & Terdal, 1988b). Computer programming requires researchers and clinicians to operationalize measures that remained previously at the conceptual level. Thus, this standardization could occur on both psychometric (accuracy, reliability, validity, norming) and procedural dimensions (protocol, instructions, coding) of various behavioral assessment strategies.
Fourth, microcomputer technology, especially accompanying software programs, can facilitate the dissemination of behavioral assessment strategies into diverse areas of practice. The range of applications from least to most influence of the psychologist in therapeutic decision making and client care include the following (Hartman, 1986b): (a) storage and retrieval of clinical records, (b) administration and storage of tests, (c) automated interviewing, (d) automated test interpretation, (e) integrated report writing/evaluations, and (f) treatment programming. Because increasing numbers of practitioners have access to microcomputers, behavioral assessment tools can be disseminated by sharing a disk. Thus, the software provides a portable vehicle for assessment and treatment procedures, encouraging use in diverse settings and with diverse clients.
Fifth, although there is little empirical work in this area, computers in behavioral assessment may strengthen the link between assessment and treatment. Microcomputers have been used for both assessment and treatment of developmentally disabled children (e.g., Romanczyk, 1984, 1986), and may supplement conventional self-help or bibliotherapy formats in psychological treatment (Reynolds et al., 1985). "Expert systems" (discussed subsequently) may also facilitate the assessment treatment link (Kramer, 1985).
In this chapter we discuss the current scope of behavioral assessment and provide an overview of some identifying characteristics. We then review current applications of computer technology across several domains of behavioral assessment. Finally, we present factors bearing on the development and use of computers in behavioral assessment with a specific focus on directions for research.