[IPAC-List] MMPI Controversy

Mark Hammer Mark.Hammer at psc-cfp.gc.ca
Fri Aug 14 11:44:16 EDT 2009

At a certain point, tests can become "of their time", or even "of their place and time". For instance, for some years we have been using a test of capacity to learn a second language that was initially developed by linguist JB Carroll some time ago. The test is a decent one, but it provides sample phrases and phonological distinctions to be acquired from both Kurdish and some central African dialect. Once upon a time, one could be assured that the likelihood of any of our applicants/testees actually *knowing* Kurdish or the African dialect was so small as to be negligible, making the test both secure and reliable (we'll assume validity is a separate concern). In the last 50 years, however, changes to both human migration, and assorted political and social upheavals, have meant that there are a bunch of people who might take the test who actually already speak, or have more than a passing familiarity with, those dialects/languages originally selected for their rarity of use in North America. Clearly, the test needs modernization to adapt to the current demographic profile of testees. Similarly, modifications have been made to the WAIS, on the basis of appropriate norming studies, such that different geographical/national groups are not adversely affected by the rather American slant (due to American origins) of the factual questions when the test is used in other countries.

Tests change. Tests often need to change. The issue here is whether the degree of change is sufficient to say it's not the same test any more. I am reminded here of two anecdotes. One is the experience, in my early grad school years, of sharing a house with others who had the audacity to claim that something produced on a whole wheat crust, with tomato sauce, carrots and broccoli, but no cheese or sausage anywhere, was a "pizza" (based on the conservation of a flat and round profile and use of tomato sauce). The second is one my wife relayed yesterday in which studies she had examined to assess the relative risk and hazard posed by certain industrial substances had used the qualifier "in vivo" in a manner that bore no resemblance to what most biologists would consider to be in vivo. In her case, in vivo studies are considered as usable evidence (they more closely mimic industrial exposure), but in vitro ones are treated differently. The investigators could call the studies whatever the heck they wanted in their little corner of the world, but for her world the results had to meet a standard of "in vivo-ness", and they didn't. So, I have some sympathy for those who have reservations about calling the revised version by the same name of the original.

Of course, in the case of the MMPI, its long history also means that its uses and applications, and the kinds of inferences drawn from it, have multiplied over the years. What it was initially developed for is but a fraction of what it is now used for. So, modifying the test in any manner which optimizes its usefulness and validity for any *subset* of applications may not necessarily provide continuing validity for *all* applications. It's kind of like how running the butter knife on the grinder for a bit to make it a better flathead screwdriver or paint-can opener messes with its ability to spread butter effectively or be given to young children. You can't leave the test glued to the past, but yet you can't change it without disrupting its connection to all existing knowledge about what test results *mean*.

I took an MMPI once for some research study. My recollection is that it was of a length and content more suited to Gitmo than to hospitals. I was ready to confess to anything by the end, even wetting OTHER people's beds! And as for playing "drop the handkerchief", well it seems to have been replaced by other more overt acts of flirtation since the 1930s.

Mark Hammer

>>> Lance Seberhagen <sebe at erols.com> 2009/08/14 9:53 am >>>

Attention MMPI users! There is an interesting "feud" developing among
the developers of the most recent versions of the test. See the link
below to a recent article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Reader
comments after the article are of interest, too.

1. MMPI (Starke Hathaway & J.C. McKinley, 1942).
2. MMPI-2 (James Butcher, Auke Tellegen, et al., 1989).
3. MMPI-2-RF (Auke Tellegen & Yossef Ben-Porath, 2007).

MMPI Controversy

Lance Seberhagen, Ph.D.
Seberhagen & Associates
9021 Trailridge Ct
Vienna, VA 22182
Tel 703-790-0796

IPAC-List at ipacweb.org

More information about the IPAC-List mailing list