Does taking a personality test give you the jitters? Learn all about the MMPI and how it’s meant to help you.

The Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) is one of the most commonly used psychological tests in the United States.

It’s primarily used to help mental health professionals assess and diagnose mental health conditions, such as schizophrenia, depression, and anxiety.

Lawyers also use the MMPI as forensic evidence in criminal defense and custody disputes. According to the publisher of the MMPI, the University of Minnesota Press, employers sometimes use the test in job screenings for high risk public safety positions, such as:

  • police officers
  • nuclear power plant personnel
  • firefighters
  • pilots
  • air-traffic controllers

The University of Minnesota first published the test by Starke R. Hathaway and J.C. McKinley in 1942 and currently owns the copyright.

The University of Minnesota Press licenses the test to Pearson Assessments and other companies for sales and distribution.

The MMPI is a protected psychological test. This means the test and its materials are not freely available to the public. You won’t find the test items online, except for a few examples.

Only professionals who can provide the required credentials can buy the test from Pearson Assessments.

Types of MMPI tests

There are a variety of versions of the MMPI in general use today:

  • MMPI-2. This is the standard adult version of the assessment. It was first released in 1989. It contains 567 true/false questions and takes 60 to 90 minutes to complete. It’s been revised to reflect more culturally diverse values than the original 1942 version.
  • MMPI-2-Retracted Form. This version, published in 2008, is a shorter version of the MMPI-2. It’s intended for adults and contains 338 true/false items. The MMPI-2-R Ftakes about half the time as the MMPI-2 to complete, about 40 to 50 minutes.
  • MMPI-Adolescent. This is a version of the test released in 1992 for adolescents from 14 to 18 years old. The MMPI-A contains 478 items and takes about 60 minutes to complete.
  • MMPI-A-RF. This short form of the test for adolescents was released in 2016. It contains 241 items and takes 25 to 45 minutes to complete.
  • MMPI-3. This is the newest version of the MMPI. It was released in 2020. It has updated items, scales, and norms. It contains 335 items and takes 25 to 50 minutes to complete.

These versions of the test are based on different norms and clinical scales.

A norm is a statistic or set of statistics (such as average, standard deviations, and score ranges) that researchers compare an individual’s score against. This helps researchers determine the baseline “normal,” or typical, result.

A scale is a group of questions that measure a person’s tendency toward a certain mental health condition. They can also measure aspects of mental or social functioning that don’t necessarily indicate a disorder.

Each test version also contains varying content scales, clinical subscales, and supplementary scales.

Interpreting the MMPI is a complex process that is closely protected and monitored. This is because the complex scale requires specific training to accurately interpret the results — and misinterpreting the results can have harmful consequences, leading to unnecessary distress.

It’s important to know that the MMPI isn’t a standardized test in the usual sense. It doesn’t use percentile ranks that indicate how well you did on the test. It’s not a test you either pass or fail.

The test is part of a psychological evaluation your clinician will make. The results of the MMPI test will give your clinician a sense of what mental health conditions you might be experiencing.

The MMPI result will be just one factor in the diagnosis the clinician may make and the treatment they’ll recommend. Your mental health and medical history will be considered, along with your experiences.

The MMPI has built-in clinical scales that describe a person’s psychological processes and how they respond to stress.

Each scale is made of a specific group of questions (unknown to the test taker), which the test developer’s field research says indicates a particular psychological condition.

The MMPI also has built-in validity scales designed to identify how a person approached the test, such as whether they attempted to present themselves differently from how they actually view themselves.

Here are the 10 clinical scales of the MMPI-2, which is still the most widely used version of the MMPI. These scales overlap, but generally, high scale scores point to a high risk of having a mental health disorder.

1. Hypochondriasis (Hs)

The hypochondriasis scale is designed to detect exaggerated concern over one’s health that is unsupported by medical authority. The concerns are usually vague and persist despite not being validated.

2. Depression (D)

The depression scale points to aspects related to clinical depression. The related questions concern low morale, overall dissatisfaction in life, and an absence of hope for the future.

3. Hysteria (Hy)

The hysteria scale tracks five aspects of a person:

  • poor physical health
  • shyness
  • cynicism
  • headaches
  • neuroticism

A high score on this scale could point to a variety of mental health disorders, such as anxiety, paranoia, or dissociative disorders.

4. Psychopathic deviate (Pd)

This scale points to difficulty with family and authority figures.

It also gauges feelings of alienation from self and society as well as boredom.

5. Masculinity/femininity (Mf)

This scale measures how much a person abides by stereotypical masculine and feminine values and roles.

The questions deal with:

  • activity interests
  • aesthetic preferences
  • personal sensitivities

6. Paranoia (Pa)

The paranoia scale identifies aspects of personality, such as grandiose thinking, suspicion toward other people, and rigid thinking.

It also includes items that might reflect delusions.

7. Psychasthenia (Pt)

This scale gauges a person’s ability to resist certain thoughts or behaviors.

This scale identifies abnormal fears, self-criticism, and concentration difficulty.

8. Schizophrenia (Sc)

This scale identifies tendencies toward bizarre thoughts and social alienation.

Its questions deal with:

  • family relationships
  • impulse control
  • questions of self-worth
  • sexual difficulties

9. Hypomania (Ma)

This scale identifies unhealthy overactivity expressed as excitement, elevated and unstable mood, and long strings of ideas.

Also included are feelings of grandiosity and egocentricity.

10. Social introversion (Si)

This scale gauges social introversion, which is the tendency to avoid social interactions or feel awkward and withdraw from them.

These items point to a lack of social skills and a preference to be among small groups or alone.

The validity scales attempt to identify deceptive or inconsistent test results. There are a variety of both intentional and unintentional reasons people might try to present themselves other than what they are.

Intentional deception has been known to occur in situations such as:

  • employment screening
  • attempts to get costly treatment
  • disability evaluations
  • personal injury lawsuits
  • court-ordered evaluations
  • competency hearings
  • custody proceedings
  • unwillingness to cooperate

Unintentional deception might occur for reasons such as:

  • illness
  • cultural misunderstanding
  • test-taking difficulty

The validity scales vary among MMPI versions, but the MMPI-2 contains three general types of validity scales:

  • non-responding or inconsistent responding (CNS, VRIN, TRIN)
  • over-reporting, or exaggerating psychological symptoms, popularly called “faking bad” (F, Fb, Fp, FBS)
  • under-reporting, or reducing psychological symptoms, popularly called “faking good” (L, K, S)

Here are the validity scales usually used in the MMPI-2 assessment. Some have been developed independently from the MMPI-2 test itself.

  • CNS (cannot say). This is a measure of the number of “cannot say” responses.
  • VRIN-r (variable response inconsistency). This identifies random responses made without consideration of the content.
  • TRIN-r (true response inconsistency). This identifies fixed responding patterns.
  • F scale (infrequent responses, 60 items). These are a collection of unlikely and contradictory responses.
  • Fb (F back scale). This is the same as the F scale, except it only looks at responses to the second half of the test.
  • FBS-r (symptom validity, 43 items). This scale is designed to identify the over-reporting of symptoms. It is popularly referred to as the “faking bad scale” scale.
  • L-r (uncommon virtues, 15 items). This scale is also called the “lie scale.” It attempts to identify under-reporting of symptoms by test takers to appear in a better light than they actually are.
  • K-r (adjustment validity, 30 items). This scale identifies under-reporting by test takers who may be tailoring answers to give the impression of healthy psychological adjustment. It’s also called the “faking good scale.”
  • S (superlative self-presentation, 50 items). This scale identifies under-reporting by test takers who are defensive and intentionally distort their responses to try to look better in terms of certain human virtues.

People have always had concerns over the reliability and accuracy of the MMPI ever since it was first published in 1942.

The MMPI has been revised and updated various times to correct gender and racial bias, and to validate the test against new normative samples.

Studies of MMPI accuracy usually focus on specific uses. Reports often vary.

For example, a 2021 study concluded that the MMPI-2, when results were evaluated through machine learning, provided reliable accuracy in classifying and predicting suicidal ideation and past suicidal attempts.

Researchers recommended that clinicians could use the MMPI to help detect and treat groups with a high risk of suicide.

The MMPI will probably never receive total approval or total disapproval. It’s one tool within a large diagnostic toolbox, and it’s constantly being reviewed and revised.

It will continue to be tweaked and analyzed, and most likely always be a work in progress.

In the book “Of Psychometric Means: Starke R. Hathaway and the Popularization of the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory,” authors Rebecca Schilling and Stephen T. Casper conclude that the MMPI gives behavioral health professionals a starting point from which to build diagnoses and initiate treatment.

They point out that the MMPI can also help test takers to consider their mental health and better understand their own psychology.

Consider speaking with a doctor or a mental health professional to help you determine which type of MMPI test best aligns with your unique mental health experience.

If you’re going to take the MMPI test, there really is no way to prepare. The best you can do is to be well rested for the test and answer the questions truthfully.

It’s also good to remember the test is designed to be a helping tool, one that can give both you and your mental health professionals a clearer vision of one precious and unique human personality.