MMPI-3: Revision of MMPI-2 or Marketing Hype?

By Alan F. Friedman, Ph.D. and David S. Nichols, Ph.D.
November 7, 2017 - Last updated: November 9, 2017

For the last decade, the publisher of the MMPI instruments, the University of Minnesota Press, and its distributor, Pearson Assessments, told psychologists that “the standard has evolved” with publication of the MMPI-2-RF in 2008 and the MMPI-A-RF in 2016. In fact, the MMPI-2-RF was less an evolution than a new creation, with the original empirical, contrasted groups, scale construction strategy abandoned in favor of a factor-analytic construction strategy, one directed in part by a model of mood (Watson and Tellegen, 1985), the credentials of which remain much in question (Ranson et al., 2009).

In the end, the construct-driven MMPI-2 and MMPI-A morphed into content-driven, face valid instruments. Indeed, the correlations between the Restructured Clinical (RC) scales and one or another of the MMPI-2 Content Scales or similar content-based scales all but invariably exceed those between the RC scales and their MMPI-2 Clinical Scale counterparts, as evident in the developers own data (Tellegen and Ben-Porath, 2008). Despite these significant psychometric problems, the publisher has been very active in peppering the continuing education landscape with workshops and webinars extolling the MMPI-2-RF’s merits relative to those of the MMPI-2.

And now we have learned the publisher is funding one of the MMPI-2-RF authors to develop an MMPI-3 that appears based on the MMPI-2-RF, despite the fact that Ben-Porath (2017, p. 277) stated recently that the “…MMPI-2-RF was introduced as an alternative to, rather than a replacement for the MMPI-2.” A manager at the University of Minnesota Press confirmed to us that an MMPI-3 is in development. Yet, a June 2017 review by the University of Minnesota’s Internal Audit Department indicated:

“The development of an MMPI-3 instrument has not been mentioned in any of the annual requests for proposals even though Yossef Ben-Porath received $154,000 in 2017 for “Further Development of the MMPI-2-RF/ MMPI-3.” The 2017 award for Ben-Porath’s proposal was awarded without the Press publically advertising the intent of the Press to fund development of the MMPI-3 assessment. This gives  the impression of favoritism regarding access to funding for development and research proposals by the  Press.”

The appearance of favoritism by limiting the University Press MMPI research funding to one individual should have no place in development of an MMPI instrument to be marketed for high stakes decision-making.

An MMPI-3 based on the MMPI-2-RF is not an authentic successor to the MMPI and MMPI-2 and their 70-year history of research and successful clinical use. Whereas the MMPI-2 relies upon a code type approach to interpretation in which its scales are examined in configural patterns based upon empirically validated code types, the MMPI-2-RF relies upon a scale-by-scale interpretive approach, and just as the empirical correlates for the MMPI-2 code types are not applicable to the MMPI-2-RF, neither will they be to the MMPI-3.

Several studies have demonstrated a lack of sensitivity for the RC scales, the core scales of the MMPI-2-RF, in detecting psychopathology.

One need only reflect on the police misconduct headlines over the last 10 years to appreciate the importance of avoiding false negatives in the selection of safety sensitive personnel. In fact, based on research, the FAA disallows its psychologists from using the MMPI-2-RF as a substitute for the MMPI-2 in screening air traffic controllers and others. A detailed review of the psychometric deficiencies of the MMPI-2-RF exceeds the scope of this article, but Nichols, (2006), Greene, et al. (2009), Ranson et al. (2009), Friedman et al. (2015), and Butcher et al. (2015), cover many of the concerns expressed in the literature.

Recently, in Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, Lally and Williams (2017, p. 282) reported that in 2016 the MMPI-2 “…continues to be more widely used than the MMPI-2-RF (61 percent to 39 percent), despite years of marketing the MMPI-2-RF as the ‘new standard,’ the introduction of new MMPI-2-RF products, and the discontinuation of MMPI-2 products.” In fact, Ben-Porath (2017) reported, and Lally and Williams (2017) confirmed, similar figures for 2015: 63 percent of administrations used the MMPI-2 and only 37 percent used the MMPI-2-RF. It follows per Mihura et al. (2017) that the MMPI-2 is the most popularly taught adult self-report inventory in clinical psychology training programs (92 percent), with the MMPI-2-RF at 67 percent.

If the University Press follows through with its plans to release an MMPI-3 based on the controversial methodology underlying the MMPI-2-RF, the reader should be aware that “MMPI-3” is a misnomer and an attempt to capitalize on the MMPI brand by hijacking the name. In essence, any revision of the MMPI-2-RF is just that and should be labeled appropriately as a version of the latter instrument.  Eliminating “RF” in its name by calling it an MMPI-3 is a masquerade, for the ostensible purpose of having users discontinue using the MMPI-2 in favor of an MMPI-3 imposter.  A more honest title would be the “MMPI-2-RF-Revised (RF-R),” because the methodology underlying the MMPI-2-RF is not remotely similar in construction, scales or interpretation to the MMPI-2. To put the matter simply with a quote attributed to Abraham Lincoln, “How many legs does a dog have if you call a tail a leg? Four. Calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it one.”

Those who do not follow the journal literature replete with valid criticisms of the RC scales and the MMPI-2-RF, may be seduced by this marketing ploy. Adams (2000, p. 282) states that “…the decision to revise a test itself may be made in an environment wherein the economic return of a test becomes the salient factor in decision making about the test.” Knauss (2017) explains that this may be attributable to the need to support new projects or even the need to support the company as a whole. Financial and marketplace decisions no doubt influence test revisions just as test validity must play a major role.

Readers are cautioned to inform themselves about the important issues that a publisher may not acknowledge in its advertising. If this new “MMPI” instrument is ultimately released, it is our hope that the University of Minnesota Press will have decided to avoid any pretense that its forthcoming MMPI-3 is a revision of the MMPI-2. Instead, we hope for a more accurate and balanced approach to marketing its MMPI-related products, an approach that serves its potential and existing customers by leveling with them.

References available from authors


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Alan F. Friedman, Ph.D., is senior author of the third edition textbook Psychological Assessment with the MMPI-2/ MMPI-2- RF. He specializes in fitness for duty evaluations, threat assessments and selection of public safety personnel for police and fire agencies. He is an associate clinical professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences in the Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University. His email address is: David S. Nichols, Ph.D., spent his career as a staff clinical psychologist at the Oregon State Hospital and as an adjunct professor at Pacific University. The MMPI has been the focus of his research and writing for more than 40 years. Among his publications is Essentials of MMPI-2 Assessment, Second Edition. He may be reached at

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