On Wednesday, Howard Stern and his cohorts on his popular morning radio show discussed the results of their psychological testing (or “psych testing” as they kept referring to it on the show).
The results made for some great radio. But it also highlighted some of the pros and cons of psychological testing. And perhaps inadvertently raised the question — should scientific or medical tools be used for entertainment purposes?
The test they took — the Millon Clinical Multiaxial Inventory (MCMI-III) — is not meant to be taken by ordinary people who have no obvious psychological concerns. It was developed with a focus on personality and psychopathology — to help a psychologist better identify the areas of personality that are contributing to a person’s maladaptive behavior.
First, a clarification, since it’s something a lot of people do — confusing terminology. Howard Stern kept referring to the test as a “psychiatric test” or “psychiatric exam.” Psychiatrists don’t do psychological testing (or they do very little of it), because they don’t have the extensive training and experience with them that psychologists do. A “psychiatric test” is more like a “psychiatric evaluation” — basically a clinical interview with a psychiatrist, usually to evaluate the person for possible treatment with a medication. A psychological test is what Howard Stern and his staff took — a test assessing psychological components of their personality, administered by a psychologist.
While it’s all in good fun that this test is administered to ordinary people for some entertainment value — “Ha ha, look at how neurotic and histrionic Howard Stern is!” — it can also cause some to belittle the test without really understanding it.
The MCMI-III, for instance, is based upon research going all the way back to 1969 based upon Theodore Millon, Ph.D., D.Sc.’s organization of psychopathology published in Modern Psychopathology. Very few psychological tests still in use today have such a rich and large research base. In its most popular current form, the MCMI-III, it is used in a variety of settings to help psychologists better understand a person’s abnormal personality traits and primary clinical concerns.
But the MCMI-III does not tell how normal a person is. That’s a popular misconception, and not one the test measures. You can’t look at two profiles and simply say, “This person is more crazy or disordered than this other profile,” because so much of profile interpretation depends on the person’s history, background, age, coping skills and styles, support system, and so much more.
The professional who gave the test is Dr. Debbie Magids, a counseling psychologist in New York City. She is a member in good standing of the American Psychological Association.
The doctor said it was a “complete personality test.” It is not. It is a test primarily of abnormal behavior and doesn’t do a very good job in determining or acknowledging personality coping styles or strengths.
Howard Stern, Robin Quivers, Ronnie (the Limo Driver) Mund, Fred Norris, Steve Langford and Benji Bronck took the test. Howard thought he would be the most normal, while Robin thought it would be her. Benji claimed that the test measures eating disorders and he would score highly; it does not measure eating disorders.
When discussing the results, Dr. Magids didn’t always mention exact scores on specific MCMI-III scales. Howard Stern came out as a histrionic personality type (with a secondary trait of dependent personality with a score of 74), according to Dr. Magids. She claimed Howard Stern was the “most normal.” Steve Langford came out with an obsessive-compulsive personality type, and was the “second most normal.”
Fred Norris was the “next loony person,” and scored a score of 83 on narcissistic personality, with a secondary trait of schizotypal personality (with a score of 68). Robin Quivers was next. She scored very high on narcissism with a score of 94 — which is very high. She also had histrionic personality features with a score of 74. The psychologist explained how these two traits can balance one another out.
Ronnie (“the Limo driver”) Mund was “the most crazy.” He had narcissistic personality disorder (score of 109 — which is very high), histrionic personality traits (score of 79), paranoid personality traits (score of 77) and passive-aggressive personality traits (score of 77).
The MCMI-III does not provide insights into a person’s soul. Nor is one interpretation the only one possible from any given score report. Different psychologists may interpret the same set of scores in very different ways, despite the empirical nature of the test. Because when it comes down to it, the actual interpretation of any psychological test is based upon a single professional’s judgment and experience.
Was it entertaining? Sure. Did it help people better understand the value of psychological testing. Maybe, but it also came across a bit like a tarot card reading. I’m not sure the psychologists explained enough about the limitations and purposes of the MCMI-III, and seemed to suggest it really was this sort of end-all, be-all of psychological tests. It’s a great psychological test. But it has its limitations, too.
Psychological testing is not administered as a matter of course in most therapy settings. It’s usually done only when there is some significant questions about what’s going on with the person or their personality function that isn’t clear from a traditional clinical interview, or in the course of a full psychological or neuropsychological test battery.
Learn more about the test the Howard Stern staff took: the Millon Clinical Multiaxial Inventory (MCMI-III)
Update: The test’s name that Howard Stern took was never mentioned; this article originally speculated that they took the MMPI-2, but it was later confirmed they took the MCMI-III.