The Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) is a psychological test that assesses personality traits and psychopathology. It is primarily intended to test people who are suspected of having mental health or other clinical issues. Although it was not originally designed to be administered to non-clinical populations, it can be used to assess psychological stability in workers in ‘high-risk’ professions such as airline pilots, police or workers in the nuclear power industry, although using it in this manner is controversial.
The MMPI is currently commonly administered in one of two forms — the MMPI-2, which has 567 true/false questions, and the newer MMPI-2-RF, published in 2008 and containing only 338 true/false items. While the MMPI-2-RF takes about half the time to complete (usually about 40 to 50 minutes), the MMPI-2 is still the more widely used test because of its existing large research base and familiarity among psychologists. (Another version of the test — the MMPI-A — is designed exclusively for teenagers.)
The MMPI is considered a protected psychological instrument, meaning it can only be given and interpreted by a psychologist trained to do so (you cannot find the test online). While it’s commonly administered by computer nowadays (and requires no direct professional involvement during its administration), psychological testing is nearly always preceded by a clinical interview by the psychologist who is doing the testing. After the computer scores the test results, the psychologist writes up a report interpreting the test results in the context of the person’s history and current psychological concerns.
The MMPI-2 is designed with 10 clinical scales. which assess 10 major categories of abnormal human behavior, and four validity scales, which assess the person’s general test-taking attitude and whether they answered the items on the test in a truthful and accurate manner.
The 10 Clinical Subscales of the MMPI-2, require answering certain questions on the test in a specific manner: 1. Hypochondriasis – Looks at a wide variety of vague and nonspecific complaints about bodily functioning. 2. Depression – Measures clinical depression, which is characterised by poor morale, lack of hope in the future, and a general dissatisfaction with one’s life. 3. Hysteria – Primarily measures five components — poor physical health, shyness, cynicism, headaches and neuroticism. 4. Psychopathic Deviate – Measures general social maladjustment and the absence of strongly pleasant experiences. 5. Masculinity/Femininity – Measures interests in vocations and hobbies, aesthetic preferences, activity-passivity and personal sensitivity. 6. Paranoia – Primarily measures interpersonal sensitivity, moral self-righteousness and suspiciousness. 7. Psychasthenia – Is intended to measure a person’s inability to resist specific actions or thoughts, regardless of their maladaptive nature. 8. Schizophrenia – Measures bizarre thoughts, peculiar perceptions, social alienation, poor familial relationships, difficulties in concentration and impulse control, lack of deep interests, disturbing question of self-worth and self-identity, and sexual difficulties. 9. Hypomania – Is intended to measure milder degrees of excitement, characterized by an elated but unstable mood, psychomotor excitement (e.g., shaky hands) and flight of ideas (e.g., an unstoppable string of ideas). 10. Social Introversion – Measures the social introversion and extroversion of a person.
The MMPI is not a valid measure of a person’s psychopathology or behavior if the person taking the test does so in a way that is not honest or frank. A person may decide, for whatever reasons, to overreport (exaggerate) or underreport (deny) the behavior being assessed by the test. The four validity scales are designed to measure a persons test-taking attitude and approach to the test:
- Lie – The Lie scale is intended to identify individuals who are deliberately trying to avoid answering the MMPI honestly and in a frank manner.
- F – The F scale (the “F” does not stand for anything, although it is mistakenly sometimes referred to as the Infrequency or Frequency scale) is intended to detect unusual or atypical ways of answering the test items, like if a person were to randomly fill out the test.
- Back F – The Back F scale measures the same issues as the F scale, except only during the last half of the test.
- K – The K scale is designed to identify psychopathology in people who otherwise would have profiles within the normal range. It measures self-control, and family and interpersonal relationships, and people who score highly on this scale are often seen as being defensive.