The more things change… Friedman and Nichols react to a new version of the MMPI

By Yossef Ben-Porath, Ph.D.
March 19, 2018



MMPI
Personality assessment is predicated on the empirically supported proposition that under similar circumstances, individuals will behave in a predictable manner. Friedman and Nichols’s recent article in The National Psychologist, “MMPI-3: Revision of MMPI-2 or Marketing Hype,” is a case in point. The prospect of a new MMPI version has triggered behavior nearly identical to their reactions to release of the MMPI-2 almost 30 years ago and to the MMPI-2-RF in 2008.

In an APA Monitor article (Adler, 1990) Friedman likened the newly released MMPI-2 to the “New Coke,” and Nichols deemed the MMPI-2 norms unsuitable for use in state hospitals (his place of employment). Drawing on Friedman’s analogy, the article concluded with a prediction that the MMPI-2 would suffer the fate of the New Coke (a spectacularly unsuccessful attempt by the Coca Cola Company to update the beverage’s flavor).

Their initially dim views of the revision notwithstanding, Friedman and Nichols went on to become MMPI-2 textbook authors. From skeptical critics they morphed into staunch defenders of the MMPI-2. In 2007, they co-authored a letter cautioning the president of the University of Minnesota that release of the MMPI-2-RF would cause embarrassment to the university, and they questioned the knowledge, experience and judgment of those involved in its development. In their most recent screed, they warn that should the MMPI-3 be based on the MMPI-2-RF, the new version will be “hijacked,” a “masquerade” and an “imposter.”

Friedman and Nichols’s MMPI-2-RF critique consists of complaints they and a handful of like-minded MMPI traditionalists have made repeatedly. Conspicuously absent from their article is any mention, let alone consideration, of the numerous rebuttals of their arguments, which one would expect to find in a serious and intellectually honest analysis. The interested reader may find detailed treatment of these issues in my 2012 book Interpreting the MMPI-2-RF.

Briefly, in their current missive Friedman and Nichols:
*Argue that “the MMPI-2 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” (p. 1). This statement fails to acknowledge that the original scale construction technique did not achieve its aim – a direct differential diagnostic test. Although the scales were salvaged, the method used in their construction had no bearing on how the MMPI Clinical Scales came to be used (i.e., code types).

*Complain that the construct-driven MMPI-2 changed with the MMPI-2-RF into a content-driven face valid instrument. In reality, MMPI-2 interpretation has been largely atheoretical since Day 2, when the original diagnostic constructs were abandoned in favor of theory-free code types. In contrast, as detail-ed in chapters 2 and 3 of my book (just mentioned) the substantive MMPI-2-RF scales are linked conceptually and empirically to psychological constructs that are the focus of current work in the fields of personality and psychopathology.

*Assert that an MMPI-3 based on the MMPI-2-RF is not an “authentic successor” to the MMPI because the code-type correlate literature cannot be applied, but ignore the unprecedented quantity and quality of empirical correlate data included in the MMPI-2-RF Technical Manual and the over 380 peer-reviewed MMPI-2-RF studies published over the past decade. In doing so, they create a misleading impression that MMPI-2-RF interpretation is not empirically guided.

*Claim the RC Scales “lack sensitivity” and express concerns about implications of this “shortcoming” for assessing police officer candidates, while ignoring numerous empirical refutations of the “low sensitivity” assertion (cf., Tellegen et al.., 2006) and several recently published studies documenting empirically the utility of the MMPI-2-RF in identifying police candidates at increased risk for subsequent counterproductive behaviors. References to these and the hundreds of other peer-reviewed MMPI-2-RF studies can be found at: https://www.upress.umn.edu/test-division/MMPI-2-RF/mmpi2rf-references.

*Cite Williams and Lally’s misleading comparison of MMPI-2 and MMPI-2-RF sales and fail to mention that in my corrective analysis (Ben-Porath, 2017) the most accurate estimate of the MMPI-2-RF use rate in 2015 was 45 percent, and the trend lines for sales of the two versions are moving in opposite directions and will likely soon intersect.

Friedman and Nichols’ protestations that the MMPI-2-RF is unrelated to the MMPI-2 are difficult to reconcile with Friedman’s first authorship and Nichols co-authorship of a 2015 book titled Psychological Assessment with the MMPI-2/MMPI-2-RF, which includes a chapter that provides detailed interpretive guidelines for the MMPI-2-RF. If the MMPI-2-RF is unrelated to the MMPI-2, and it is the psychometric disaster they proclaim, what is it doing in the title and a dedicated chapter of the third edition of their MMPI book?

Friedman and Nichols also raise questions about the process followed by the University of Minnesota Press in funding research intended to modernize the MMPI. Development of the MMPI-3 is addressed in a statement issued by the Press (https://www.upress.umn.edu/test-division/mmpi-3-announcement).

Friedman and Nichols assert incorrectly that I am the sole developer of the MMPI-3. My MMPI-2-RF coauthor (and mentor), Auke Tellegen, is a co-developer of the MMPI-3. It is worth noting in this context that Tellegen was a member of the committee that developed the MMPI-2, that he was responsible for some of the major innovations introduced with the MMPI-2 (e.g., the consistency scales and uniform T scores), and that he and I are co-authors of the current MMPI-2 manual.

Freidman and Nichols seek to create the impression that work toward the MMPI-3 is being conducted by an isolated researcher. In reality, Tellegen and I and the University of Minnesota Press have been fortunate to receive input and assistance from many active MMPI researchers and users. MMPI-3 development has been discussed regularly at our annual research symposium attended by dozens of researchers and practitioners.

In closing, Friedman and Nichols’s forewarnings about the MMPI-3 are consistent with an enduring pattern of behavior characterized by one-sided, hyperbolic alarmism that in the past evolved (sometimes rapidly) into acceptance of improvements to the inventory. Will this round be any different?

Disclosure: Dr. Ben-Porath serves as a paid consultant to the MMPI Publisher, the University of Minnesota and distributor, Pearson. He receives research funding from the University of Minnesota. As co-author of the MMPI-2-RF he receives royalties on sales of the test.

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Yossef Ben-Porath, Ph.D., a Professor at Kent State University, has been involved extensively in MMPI research for 32 years. He is co-developer of the MMPI-2-RF and co-author of dozens of test manuals, books, chapters, and articles on the MMPI instruments. He is editor-in-chief of the journal Psychological Assessment and a former member of APA’s Committee on Psychological Tests and Assessment. His email is: ybenpora@gmail.com.

 

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