What to Know About the MMPI Test
The Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) is one of the most commonly used psychological tests in the world.
The test was developed by clinical psychologist Starke Hathaway and neuropsychiatrist J.C. McKinley, two faculty members at the University of Minnesota. It was created to be a tool for mental health professionals to help diagnose mental health disorders.
Since its publication in 1943, the test has been updated several times in an attempt to eliminate racial and gender bias and to make it more accurate. The updated test, known as the MMPI-2, has been adapted for use in over 40 countries.
This article will take a closer look at the MMPI-2 test, what it’s used for, and what it can help diagnose.
What is the MMPI-2?
The MMPI-2 is a self-report inventory with 567 true-false questions about yourself. Your answers help mental health professionals determine whether you have symptoms of a mental illness or personality disorder.
Some questions are designed to reveal how you feel about taking the test. Other questions are intended to reveal whether you’re being genuine or are under- or over-reporting in an effort to influence the test results.
For most people, the MMPI-2 test takes 60 to 90 minutes to complete.
Are there other versions?
A shorter version of the test, the MMPI-2 Restructured Form (RF), has 338 questions. This shortened version takes less time to complete — between 35 and 50 minutes for most people.
Researchers have also designed a version of the test for adolescents ages 14 to 18. This test, known as the MMPI-A, has 478 questions and can be completed in about an hour.
There is also a shorter version of the test for teenagers called the MMPI-A-RF. Made available in 2016, the MMPI-A-RF has 241 questions and can be finished in 25 to 45 minutes.
Although the shorter tests are less time consuming, many clinicians opt for the longer assessment because it has been researched over the years.
What is it used for?
MMPI tests are used to help diagnose mental health disorders, but many mental health professionals don’t rely on a single test to make a diagnosis. They usually prefer to gather information from many sources, including their own interactions with the person being tested.
The MMPI should only be administered by a trained test administrator, but the test results are sometimes used in other settings.
MMPI evaluations are sometimes used in child custody disputes, substance abuse programs, educational settings, and even employment screenings.
It’s important to note that using the MMPI as part of a job qualification process has caused some controversy. Some advocates argue that it violates the provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
What are the MMPI clinical scales?
The test items on the MMPI are designed to find out where you are on ten different mental health scales.
Each scale relates to a different psychological pattern or condition, but there’s a lot of overlap between the scales. Generally speaking, very high scores may indicate a mental health disorder.
Here’s a brief explanation of what each scale evaluates.
Scale 1: Hypochondriasis
This scale contains 32 items and is designed to measure whether you have an unhealthy concern for your own health.
A high score on this scale could mean that worrying about your health is interfering with your life and causing problems in your relationships.
For example, a person with a high Scale 1 score might be prone to developing physical symptoms that don’t have an underlying cause, especially during periods of high stress.
Scale 2: Depression
This scale, which has 57 items, measures satisfaction with your own life.
A person with a very high Scale 2 score could be dealing with clinical depression or having frequent suicidal thoughts.
A slightly elevated score on this scale could be an indication that you’re withdrawn or unhappy with your circumstances.
Scale 3: Hysteria
This 60-item scale evaluates your response to stress, including both your physical symptoms and emotional response to being under pressure.
Studies have shown that people with chronic pain may score higher on the first three scales because of prolonged, heightened health concerns.
Scale 4: Psychopathic deviate
This scale was originally intended to reveal whether you are experiencing psychopathology.
Its 50 items measure antisocial behaviors and attitudes, in addition to compliance or resistance to authority.
If you score very high on this scale, you might receive a diagnosis with a personality disorder.
Scale 5: Masculinity/femininity
The original purpose of this 56-question test section was to elicit information about people’s sexuality. It stems from a time in which some mental health professionals viewed same-sex attraction as a disorder.
Today, this scale is used to evaluate how consistently you seem to identify with gender norms.
Scale 6: Paranoia
This scale, which has 40 questions, evaluates symptoms associated with psychosis, particularly:
- extreme suspicion of other people
- grandiose thinking
- rigid black-and-white thinking
- feelings of being persecuted by society
High scores on this scale could indicate that you are dealing with either a psychosis disorder or a paranoid personality disorder.
Scale 7: Psychasthenia
This 48-item scale measures:
- compulsive behaviors
- symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
The term “psychasthenia” is no longer used as a diagnosis, but mental health professionals still use this scale as a way of evaluating unhealthy compulsions and the disruptive feelings they cause.
Scale 8: Schizophrenia
This 78-item scale is intended to show whether you have, or are likely to develop, a schizophrenia disorder.
It considers whether you’re experiencing hallucinations, delusions, or bouts of extremely disorganized thinking. It also determines to what degree you may feel alienated from the rest of society.
Scale 9: Hypomania
The purpose of this 46-item scale is to evaluate the symptoms associated with hypomania, including:
- excessive undirected energy
- rapid speech
- racing thoughts
- delusions of grandeur
If you have a high Scale 9 score, you may be having symptoms associated with bipolar disorder.
Scale 10: Social introversion
One of the later additions to the MMPI, this 69-item scale measures extroversion or introversion. This is the degree to which you seek out or withdraw from social interactions.
This scale considers, among other things, your:
What about the validity scales?
Validity scales help test administrators understand how genuine a test taker’s answers are.
In situations where test results could impact a person’s life, such as employment or child custody, people might be motivated to over-report, under-report, or be dishonest. These scales help reveal inaccurate answers.
The “L” or lie scale
People who score high on the “L” scale may be trying to present themselves in a glowing, positive light by refusing to acknowledge traits or responses they fear could make them look bad.
The “F” scale
Unless they’re choosing random answers, people who score high on this scale may be trying to seem in worse condition than they actually are.
These test items aim to reveal inconsistencies in answer patterns. It’s important to note that a high score on the “F” scale could also indicate severe distress or psychopathology.
The “K” scale
These 30 test items focus on self-control and relationships. They’re intended to reveal a person’s defensiveness around certain questions and traits.
Like the “L” scale, items on the “K” scale are designed to highlight a person’s need to be seen positively.
The CNS scale
Sometimes called the “Cannot Say” scale, this evaluation of the entire test measures how often a person doesn’t answer a test item.
Tests with more than 30 unanswered questions may be invalidated.
The TRIN and VRIN scales
These two scales detect answer patterns that indicate the person taking the test chose answers without actually considering the question.
In a TRIN (True Response Inconsistency) pattern, someone uses a fixed answer pattern, such as five “true” followed by five “false” answers.
In a VRIN (Varied Response Inconsistency) pattern, a person responds with random “trues” and “falses.”
The Fb scale
To catch a significant change in answers between the first and second halves of the test, test administrators look at 40 questions in the second half of the test that aren’t usually endorsed.
If you answer “true” to these questions 20 more times than you answer “false,” the test administrator may conclude that something is distorting your answers.
It could be that you’ve become fatigued, distressed, or distracted, or that you have begun to over-report for another reason.
The Fp scale
These 27 test items are intended to reveal whether you’re intentionally or unintentionally over-reporting, which can indicate a mental health disorder or extreme distress.
The FBS scale
These 43 test items, which are sometimes called the “symptom validity” scale, are designed to detect intentional over-reporting of symptoms. This can sometimes happen when people are pursuing personal injury or disability claims.
The “S” scale
The Superlative Self-Presentation scale takes a look at how you answer 50 questions about serenity, contentment, morality, human goodness, and virtues like patience. This is to see if you could be intentionally distorting answers to look better.
If you under-report in 44 of the 50 questions, the scale indicates that you may be feeling a need to be defensive.
What does the test involve?
The MMPI-2 has a total of 567 test items, and it will take you between 60 and 90 minutes to finish. If you’re taking the MMPI2-RF, you should expect to spend between 35 and 50 minutes answering 338 questions.
There are booklets available, but you can also take the test online, either by yourself or in a group setting.
The test is copyrighted by the University of Minnesota. It’s important that your test is administered and scored according to the official guidelines.
To be sure that your test results are interpreted and explained to you accurately, it’s a good idea to work with a clinical psychologist or psychiatrist specially trained in this kind of testing.
The bottom line
The MMPI is a well-researched and respected test designed to help mental health professionals diagnose mental health disorders and conditions.
It’s a self-reporting inventory that evaluates where you fall on 10 scales related to different mental health disorders. The test also uses validity scales to help test administrators understand how you feel about taking the test and whether you’ve answered the questions accurately and honestly.
Depending on which version of the test you take, you can expect to spend between 35 and 90 minutes answering the questions.
The MMPI is a reliable and widely used test, but a good mental health professional won’t make a diagnosis based solely on this one assessment tool.
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