A Review of Neuroscience-Based Assessment Tools

There is no shortage of brilliant Neuroscience research, which can be both exciting and overwhelming. The sheer amount of new findings is sometimes difficult to consume. After certifying and training hundreds of change leaders we've learned that it can often be unclear how to apply this new knowledge in ways that provides value in real world-settings (hopefully this article will help on that front).

The purpose of this article is to review one specific application area where Neuroscience findings have crystalized into powerful, tangible application models: assessment tools. In particular, I'll review and compare three neuroscience-based assessment tools, looking at their significant contribution to facilitating change in general and difficult change in particular from my subjective perspective as a change facilitator or "user."

Top 3 Neuroscience-Based Diagnostic Tools:

Three excellent Neuroscience-based diagnostic or assessment tools that can support change in general and difficult change in particular are:

  • Axiology-based assessments

  • PRISM Brain Mapping assessments

  • Solution Assessments

These were chosen for their use of Neuroscience in:

  • The criteria they are measuring (the categories measured are mapped according to how the brain works - for example, prefrontal cortex functions are distinguished from basal ganglia and amygdala functions).

  • The way the test itself is designed (the process of answering questions and the way questions are phrased and designed).

  • The way data from the assessments is then processed.

But also because of their ability to target and support unique difficult change challenges and because of their high validity and reliability.

This article is written from the perspective of an enthusiastic user. Certified practitioners are certainly more capable of providing a detailed and comprehensive explanation of the tools. There are several experts in our group (if you're interested I'll happily share specific names :)): https://www.linkedin.com/groups/13725904/

What Do These Neuroscience-Based Assessments Have in Common?

  • Preference: People have different subconscious perceptions of the world, unique thinking habits, different ways of processing, reasoning, and responding. These are reinforced as synaptic pathways in the brain and create patterns. These tools emphasize the brain's plasticity and identify which practices people prefer to reinforce. The focus is not on set personality traits.

  • Root causes: These assessment tools highlight the root causes of people's preferences. They very accurately show causality, pinpointing why certain preferences were adopted by an individual or team in the first place. This is extremely important in the context of change, because, deeper imbalances can block people. For people to adopt change into practice we need to ensure other related deeper abilities are not missing, or if they are, know which skills people need to develop greater mastery of so they can achieve desired outcomes.

  • Changeability: The three assessments clearly identify how people respond to discomfort in general and to discomfort associated with change in particular, which is critical input to have at the onset of difficult change processes.

  • Prescriptive: While most assessment tools in the market are descriptive, these assessments identify what we currently reinforce and what we need to reinforce more or less of - making them the only change-related assessment tools I know that validate the prescription (What can we do about it?), not just the description (What do we have here?).

  • Situational: People are not as one dimensional as assessments can sometimes draw them to be. These three assessments provide clarity about the complexity of individual and teams. They present a nuanced picture of how people would respond in different situations.

  • High validity and reliability: All three assessments use very high standards of internal reliability and have extremely high validity which makes them accurate, nuanced, and specific.

How Are These Three Assessments Different?

  • Self-reporting bias: Axiology-based assessments and Solution assessments are free of self-reporting bias. This means that the degree to which people believe they are "good/bad" at something, their perceptions of themselves, and any attempt to "fool" the tool won't influence the accuracy of the report. This is particularly valuable in the context of difficult change when there is low trust at the onset or when people are not sufficiently introspective or "objective" about who they are or what they are good at. While PRISM assessments address this to some degree in the design of the assessment (how questions are asked) and by looking comparing three layers of perception (see next bullet), they are still somewhat vulnerable to self-reporting biases.

  • Tension between who we truly are and what we "choose" to bring to the surface: PRISM assessments identify three layers (maps) of people's preferences: 1) Underlying layer - identifying who we are at our core, the "real," natural, or uninhibited way we are. 2) Adapted layer - how we perceive ourselves. 3) Consistent layer - the way we "manifest" in reality. This is hugely beneficial because the tension between these three layers highlights valuable areas of unmet potential as well as areas that can lead to stress and frustration (which need to be addressed to achieve desired outcomes). Axiology-based assessments and Solution assessments do not focus on this distinction.

  • Preferences between feeling, thinking, and doing: Axiology-based assessments address the nuanced way in which people respond to the world by distinguishing between three dimensions: 1) Intrinsic (feeling) - emotional and interpersonal. 2) Extrinsic (doing) - focuses on the practical, concrete, real-world side of things. 3) Systemic (thinking) - focuses on how we process information, organize our thoughts, solve problems, as well as follow rules and structures. PRISM assessments and Solution assessments do not outline the dynamic between intrinsic, extrinsic, and systemic dimensions of thought , although these can be inferred to a much lesser degree from their reports.

  • Validation of needed skills as part of the tool itself: Solution assessments were primarily designed to validate which skills people need to gain greater mastery of in order to successfully achieve desired outcomes. These assessments identify which deep, emotional skills would better support responding effectively to discomfort (per individual and team). While Axiology-based assessments and PRISM assessments shed light on which skills would be helpful (and both are brilliantly illustrative), validating which skills need to be acquired to achieve desired outcomes is not the focus of these assessments.

  • Time taking the assessments: Axiology-based assessments take about 20 minutes to complete, PRISM assessments take about 35 minutes to complete, Solution assessments take about 40 minutes to complete.

At KCI, we believe it is most beneficial to combine all three tools. They compliment each other beautifully (providing unparalleled insight into the why and the how), and as importantly, combining them increases their already high reliability to "rock solid."

How Do These Assessment Tools Support Difficult Change?

While these tools have obvious benefits for other purposes like recruiting, this article specifically explores the benefits Neuroscience-based assessment tools deliver when it comes to difficult change.

  • Goal-setting: A powerful diagnostic tool is an extremely powerful "partner" when it comes to defining deep, meaningful goals that support individuals and teams by seeing the whole picture. It is also particularly valuable when individuals and teams are not sufficiently introspective or mindful, when they draw faulty conclusions about what their goals need to be, or when they are uncomfortable talking freely about the real issues. All three assessments support the ability to define powerful unbiased goals.

  • Know before you start: When it comes to difficult change, the speed of collecting data about how people will respond to the change and what they need in order to complete it successfully, is critical. If we spend months coaching an individual or a team and only then discover specific ineffective response patterns to discomfort, we've just put the success of the change process at higher risk. Waiting to gather this information later, when it comes up, creates complications and at that point, with too much emotional involvement and often resistance already active, it's often hard to go back and untangle things by providing much needed skills. Knowing how people will respond to the discomfort associated with the change before we start (which is something all three assessments are great at), and providing those skills upfront, creates a much needed platform for successful implementation.

  • Predictability: One of the most important elements to support people through difficult change is trust and in most difficult change efforts (with individuals and teams), trust is the most sorely missing component. Predictability (which also implies accurate projection) is particularly important in the context of difficult change because when a change facilitator can communicate with great accuracy up front, it builds trust and makes it possible to move forward with confidence and clarity.

  • Development language: The way assessments are presented plays a very big role in the success or failure of difficult change facilitation. It is harder to initiate a transformation when diagnostic reports present parameters as if they are set. While some elements of who we are as humans are more set than others, Neuroscience-based tools properly treat most aspects of who we are as things we have lesser or greater mastery of, things we can stretch or minimize. This is particularly important when it comes to difficult change because it opens the conversation, makes us shift away from a more fixed-mindset and focuses the change on development and growth.

Would you like to learn more about these three tools? Do you know any other fabulous tools that can specifically support difficult change challenges? Have you used any other excellent Neuroscience-based assessment tools I'm unaware of?

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