What Is the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory?

A Look at the History and Use of the MMPI

Questions on the MMPI are in a True/False format.
The most widely used version of the MMPI (the MMPI-2) contains 567 true/false questions.. Jonathan Downey / Getty Images

The Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI-2) is the most widely used and researched clinical assessment tool used by mental health professionals. Originally developed in the late 1930's by a psychologist and psychiatrist, the test was later revised and updated to improve accuracy and validity. The MMPI-2 consists of 567 questions and takes approximately 60 to 90 minutes to complete.

You can learn in this overview of the MMPI-2:

History of the MMPI-2

The Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) was developed in the late 1930's by psychologist Starke R. Hathaway and psychiatrist J.C. McKinley at the University of Minnesota. Today, it is the frequently used clinical testing instrument and is one of the most researched psychological tests in existence. While the MMPI is not a perfect test, but it remains a valuable tool in the diagnosis and treatment of mental illness.

Use of the MMPI-2

The MMPI is most commonly used by mental health professionals to assess and diagnose mental illness. The MMPI-2 has been utilized in other fields outside of clinical psychology. The test is often used in legal cases, including criminal defense and custody disputes. The test has also been used as a screening instrument for certain professions, especially high-risk jobs, although the use of the MMPI in this manner has been controversial.

The test is also used to evaluate the effectiveness of treatment programs, including substance abuse programs.

MMPI Revisions

In the years after the test was first published, clinicians and researchers began to question the accuracy of the MMPI. Critics pointed out that the original sample group was inadequate.

Others argued that the results indicated possible test bias, while other felt the test itself contained sexist and racist questions. In response to these issues, the MMPI underwent a revision in the late 1980's. Many questions were removed or reworded while a number of new questions were added. Additionally, new validity scales were incorporated in the revised test.

The revised edition of the test was released in 1989 as the MMPI. While the test received revision again in 2001, the MMPI is still in use today and is the most frequently used clinical assessment test. Because the MMPI is copyrighted by the University of Minnesota, clinicians must pay to administer and utilize the test.

The test was revised again in 2003 and 2008. The most recent edition of the test is known as the MMPI-2-RF.

Administering the MMPI-2

The MMPI-2 contains 567 test items and takes approximately 60 to 90 minutes to complete. The MMPI-2-RF contains 338 questions and takes around 30 to 50 minutes to complete.

The MMPI should be administered, scored, and interpreted by a professional, preferably a clinical psychologist or psychiatrist, who has received specific training in MMPI use.

This test should collaborate with other assessment tools. Diagnosis should never be made solely on the results of the test.

The MMPI can be administered individually or in groups and computerized versions are available. The test is designed for individual’s age 18 and older. The test can be scored by hand or by a computer, but results should always be interpreted by a qualified mental health professional that has had extensive training in MMPI interpretation.

10 Scales of the MMPI

The MMPI has 10 clinical scales that are used to indicate different psychological conditions. Despite the names given to each scale, they are not a pure measure since many conditions have overlapping symptoms. Because of this, most psychologists simply refer to each scale by number.

Scale 1 – Hypochondriasis: This scale was designed to asses a neurotic concern over bodily functioning.

The 32-items on this scale concern somatic symptoms and physical well being. The scale was originally developed to identify patients displaying the symptoms of hypochondria.

Scale 2 – Depression: This scale was originally designed to identify depression, characterized by poor morale, lack of hope in the future, and a general dissatisfaction with one's own life situation. Very high scores may indicate depression, while moderate scores tend to reveal a general dissatisfaction with one’s life.

Scale 3 – Hysteria: The third scale was originally designed to identify those who display hysteria in stressful situations. Those who are well educated and of a high social class tend to score higher on this scale. Women also tend to score higher than men on this scale.

Scale 4 - Psychopathic Deviate: Originally developed to identify psychopathic patients, this scale measures social deviation, lack of acceptance of authority, and amorality.

This scale can be thought of as a measure of disobedience. High scorers tend to be more rebellious, while low scorers are more accepting of authority. Despite the name of this scale, high scorers are usually diagnosed with a personality disorder rather than a psychotic disorder.

Scale 5 – Masculinity/Femininity: This scale was designed by the original author’s to identify homosexual tendencies, but was found to be largely ineffective.

High scores on this scale are related to factors such as intelligence, socioeconomic status, and education. Women tend to score low on this scale.

Scale 6 – Paranoia: This scale was originally developed to identify patients with paranoid symptoms such as suspiciousness, feelings of persecution, grandiose self-concepts, excessive sensitivity, and rigid attitudes. Those who score high on this scale tend to have paranoid symptoms.

Scale 7 – Psychasthenia: This diagnostic label is no longer used today and the symptoms described on this scale are more reflective of obsessive-compulsive disorder. This scale was originally used to measure excessive doubts, compulsions, obsessions, and unreasonable fears.

Scale 8 – Schizophrenia: This scale was originally developed to identify schizophrenic patients and reflects a wide variety of areas including bizarre thought processes and peculiar perceptions, social alienation, poor familial relationships, difficulties in concentration and impulse control, lack of deep interests, disturbing questions of self-worth and self-identity, and sexual difficulties.

This scale is considered difficult to interpret.

Scale 9 – Hypomania: This scale was developed to identify characteristics of hypomania such as elevated mood, accelerated speech and motor activity, irritability, flight of ideas, and brief periods of depression.

Scale 0 – Social Introversion: This scale was developed later than the other nine scales as is designed to assess a person’s tendency to withdraw from social contacts and responsibilities.

Validity Scales of the MMPI-2

The L Scale: Also referred to as the "lie scale," this validity scale was developed to detect attempts by patients to present themselves in a favorable light. People who score high on this scale deliberately try to present themselves in the most positive way possible, rejecting shortcomings or unfavorable characteristics. Well-educated people from higher social classes tend to score lower on the L scale.

The F Scale: This scale is used to detect attempts at "faking good" or "faking bad." Essentially, people who score high on this test are trying to appear better or worse than they really are. This scale asks questions designed to determine if test-takers are contradicting themselves in their responses.

The K Scale: Sometimes referred to as the “defensiveness scale,” this scale is a more effective and less obvious way of detecting attempts to present oneself in the best possible way. Research has demonstrated, however, that those of a higher educational level and socioeconomic status tend to score higher on the K Scale.

The ? Scale: Also known as the “cannot say” scale, this validity scale is the number of items left unanswered. The MMPI manual recommends that any test with 30 or more unanswered questions be declared invalid.

TRIN Scale: The True Response Inconsistency Scale was developed to detect patients who respond inconsistently.

This section consists of 23 paired questions that are opposite of each other.

VRIN Scale: The Variable Response Inconsistency Scale is another method developed to detect inconsistent responses.

The Fb Scale: This scale is composed of 40 items that less than 10% of normal respondents support. High scores on this scale sometimes indicate that the respondent stopped paying attention and began answering questions randomly.

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