Category Archives: Malingering

Quick round up of deception news

Sorry for the slow posting recently – real life is getting in the way of blogging at the moment., and is likely to continue to do so for some time yet, so please bear with me. Perhaps some of these items will give you your deception research fix in the meantime.

If you’d like something to listen to during the daily commute why not download an interview with John F. Sullivan, author of Gatekeeper: Memoirs of a CIA Polygraph Examiner (h/t Antipolygraph Blog).

Alternatively, try a short NPR Morning Edition segment on the neuropsychology of lying (h/t and see also The Frontal Cortex).

The ever-interesting BPS Research Digest discusses a study of how toddlers tell a joke from a mistake. According to the researchers, Elena Hoicka and Merideth Gattis:

…the ability to recognise humorous intent comes after the ability to recognise jokes, but before the ability to recognise pretense and lies. “We propose that humour understanding is an important step toward understanding that human actions can be intentional not just when actions are right, but even when they are wrong,” they concluded.

Karen Franklin has a terrific commentary on the Wall Street Journal’s discussion of a subscale of the MMPI, which claims to detect malingerers but which, according to critics, results in a large number of false positives (i.e., labelling truthful test-takers as malingerers). (See also a short commentary by Steven Erikson).

There are two articles by Jeremy Dean of the glorious PsyBlog on false memories (here and here).

And finally, Kai Chang at Overcoming Bias reports on an unusual teaching technique which involves asking students to spot the Lie of the Day.

Simple test improves accuracy of polygraph results

polygraphA press release from Blackwell Publishing (28 Nov) highlights a new study coming out in the next issue of the journal Psychophysiology.

In order to prevent false positive results in polygraph examinations, testing is set to err on the side of caution. This protects the innocent, but increases the chances that a guilty suspect will go unidentified. A new study published in Psychophysiology finds that the use of a written test, known as Symptom Validity Testing (SVT), in conjunction with polygraph testing may improve the accuracy of results.

SVT is an independent measure that tests an entirely different psychological mechanism than polygraph examinations. It is based on the rationale that, when presented with both real and plausible-but-unrelated crime information, innocent suspects will show a random pattern of results when asked questions about the crime. SVT has previously been shown as effective in detecting post-traumatic stress disorder, amnesia and other perceptual deficits for specific events.

The study finds that SVT is also an easy and cost-effective method for determining whether or not a suspect is concealing information. In simulated cases of mock crime questioning and feigned amnesia, it accurately detected when a participant was lying.

Furthermore, when used in combination with the preexisting but relatively uncommon concealed information polygraph test (CIT), test accuracy is found to be higher than when either technique is used alone.

“We showed that the accuracy of a Concealed Information Test can be increased by adding a simple pencil and paper test,” says lead author Ewout Meijer of Maastricht University. “When ‘guilty’ participants were forced to choose one answer for each question, a substantial proportion did not succeed in producing the random pattern that can be expected from ‘innocent’ participants.”


Abstract below the fold

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Continue reading Simple test improves accuracy of polygraph results

Faking bad on the Gudjonsson Suggestibility Scales

Julian Boon, Lynsey Gozna and Stephen Hall have a paper forthcoming in the journal Personality and Individual Differences exploring whether it’s possible to ‘fake bad’ on the Gudjonsson Suggestibility Scales (GSS). These tests measure ‘Interrogative Suggestibility’ (IS), which is defined as “the extent to which, within a closed social interaction, people come to accept messages communicated during formal questioning, as a result of which their subsequent behavioural response is affected” (Gudjonsson & Clark, 1986, p. 84). People who are high in IS are more susceptible to making false confessions under interrogative pressure, in a police or military interrogation scenario, for instance. However, as the authors point out, some offenders might be motivated to appear suggestible or vulnerable even if they are not. For instance, if an offender wanted to retract a statement or confession, or “in circumstances where the successful demonstration of vulnerability may lead to a reduction in a fine or sentence or even to escaping a custodial sentence”.

Gudjonsson’s tests for suggestibility are now quite widely known and it’s relatively easy to find information about the procedure on the internet. This presents a problem: the reliability of the GSS depends on test takers being unaware of the purpose of the test. Boon et al. thus explored whether knowledge of the purpose of the test influenced performance, as well as examining the performance of those who deliberately tried to fake bad.

The ‘test aware’ group in this study performed differently on the suggestibility measures compared to the fakers and to a control group who had just been given the standard test. The fakers also produced a different pattern of results. Comparing the fakers’ results on suggestibility measures to the norms for individuals who are mentally impaired revealed that the results were almost identical. However, fakers could be discriminated from genuinely mentally impaired people because they performed better on a test of memory. The authors suggest that this unusual combination of results could be a ‘red flag’ for faking bad:

Specifically, this red flag could be where individuals’ scoring profiles revealed near identical scores on the principal suggestibility measures to those of the intellectually disabled norms, while simultaneously they were scoring significantly higher on the free recall measures.

The authors report that the interviewer administering the tests didn’t know which conditions participants had been allocated to, but tried to guess. She was only correct 58% of the time, suggesting that participants were good at fooling the interviewer. This shows the value of being able to detect faking via measures in the tests rather than simply relying on the judgement of the interviewer.

The limitations of this study are the usual ones – participants were undergraduate students whose motivation for faking bad is probably rather less than that of real criminals trying to escape a prison sentence.


Abstract below the fold.

Continue reading Faking bad on the Gudjonsson Suggestibility Scales

Investigating the Features of Truthful and Fabricated Reports of Traumatic Experiences

painStephen Porter and colleagues have a paper in the April 2007 issue of Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science exploring the differences between truthful and fabricated accounts of traumatic experiences.

They examined the written accounts of students fabricating and giving truthful accounts of traumatic events and found that:

… narratives based on false and genuine traumatic events showed several qualitative differences, some contrasting our predictions. Whereas we predicted that participants would be able to produce fabricated events that appeared to be as credible as truthful accounts, we found that fabricated events were rated lower on plausibility by coders with no knowledge of their actual veracity. This suggests that mistakes in the courtroom may result from liars who are able to effectively distract attention from their stories by manipulating their demeanour and speech (e.g., tone) (p.88).

In other words, lie catchers need to focus on what is being said, and try avoid being misled by non-verbal behaviour.

In addition, attention to specific types of details in the narratives helped to discriminate honesty from deception. When relating a fabricated experience, participants were unable to provide the same level of contextual information as when relating a genuine experience. They provided fewer time and location details and their reports were abbreviated overall, despite our prediction that they may be more detailed in an attempt to make their trauma stories more credible and to elicit sympathy (p.88).

As far as I can see, the following is the only attempt to motivate participants, during the instructions for the study:

Your goal in this section is to provide a believable (but fabricated) traumatic memory report. These reports will be shown to legal professionals and students (if you consented to this aspect of the study) in future research for them to determine how credible your experience appears (p.83).

It doesn’t appear from the description of the method that participants had much time to prepare their truthful or fabricated accounts. Perhaps it is not surprising then, that the results did not confirm to the researchers’ predictions? Perhaps real life malingerers, with the results of a court case at stake, and time to practice their account, might try harder to make their stories credible, and be better at it?

Participants also completed three widely used measures: the Revised Impact of Event Scale, which measures the level of traumatic stress associated with traumatic experience, the Trauma Symptom Inventory, which measures trauma and posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms, and the Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Checklist, which also screens for the presence of PTSD symptomology. Analysis of the results suggested that

…genuine and fabricated reports of trauma could be differentiated based on the patterns of traumatic stress or symptoms reported. It was anticipated that symptoms on the three measures of traumatic stress would be exaggerated when participants were fabricating. The results provided strong evidence for this hypothesis (p.88).

Abstract below the fold.


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Continue reading Investigating the Features of Truthful and Fabricated Reports of Traumatic Experiences

Detection of malingered PTSD – where do we stand?

Plants may not malinger, but people often do. In the latest issue of the Journal of Forensic Sciences (vol 52, no. 3, May 2007), Ryan Hall and Richard Hall discuss research on detecting malingered PTSD. From the abstract:

Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a condition that can be easily malingered for secondary gain. For this reason, it is important for physicians to understand the phenomenology of true PTSD and indicators that suggest an individual is malingering. This paper reviews the prevalence of PTSD for both the general population and for specific events, such as rape and terrorism, to familiarize evaluators with the frequency of its occurrence. The diagnostic criteria for PTSD, as well as potential ambiguities in the criteria, such as what constitutes an exposure to a traumatic event, are reviewed. Identified risk factors are reviewed as a potential way to help differentiate true cases of PTSD from malingered cases. […] We then examine how the clinician can use the clinical interview (e.g., SIRS, CAPS), psychometric testing, and the patient’s physiological responses to detect malingering. […] The review includes a case, which shows how an individual used symptom checklist information to malinger PTSD and the inconsistencies in his story that the evaluator detected. We conclude with a discussion regarding future diagnostic criteria and suggestions for research, including a systematic multifaceted approach to identify malingering.


Deception links from around the web

linksSome quick deception-related links from around the blogosphere:

PsyBlog presents the “Top 3 Myths, Top 5 Proven Factors” on lie detection (12 May).

Wired (10 May) picks up on the UK government trial of voice stress analysis for alleged benefit cheats.

The Psychjourney Podcast for 27 April is on Malingering and PTSD (mp3).

If podcasts are your thing you can also listen to an interview with Ken Alder, author of a new book on the polygraph, on the Bat Segundo show (mp3). As the Anti-Polygraph Blog points you, you have to sit through a little silliness first…

Photo credit: mklingo, Creative Commons License

Special issue of the Journal of Personality Assessment: the Personality Assessment Inventory


The first issue this year of the Journal of Personality Assessment 88(1) is a special issue on the Personality Assessment Inventory, with free access to full text articles. There are several papers here that will be of value to anyone who is interested in measurement of malingering and deceptiveness, as well as a few more that are of interest in a broader forensic context.

The articles on deception and malingering:

  • Deceptiveness on the PAI: A Study of Naïve Faking With Psychiatric Inpatients – Matthew R. Baity, Caleb J. Siefert, Anthony Chambers, Mark A. Blais
  • Detection of Malingering of Psychiatric Disorder With the Personality Assessment Inventory: An Investigation of Criminal Defendants – L. Thomas Kucharski, Joseph P. Toomey, Katarzna Fila, Scott Duncan
  • Detection of Malingering in Psychiatric Unit and General Population Prison Inmates: A Comparison of the PAI, SIMS, and SIRS – John F. Edens, Norman G. Poythress, M. Monica Watkins-Clay
  • Malingering on the Personality Assessment Inventory: Identification of Specific Feigned Disorders – Christopher J. Hopwood, Leslie C. Morey, Richard Rogers, Kenneth Sewell

Symptom validity testing and malingering in criminal and civil cases

lying criminalAn in-press article in the Archives of Clinical Neuropsychology on Symptom Validity Testing has just been posted online.

From the abstract:

The association between scores on MMPI-2 scales and cognitive symptom validity test (SVT) failure was investigated in 127 criminal defendants […] and 141 personal injury and disability claimants.

Results […] support the utility of the Faking Bad Scale as an indicator of non-credible presentation of somatic and cognitive complaints in both civil and criminal forensic psychological assessments, and indicate that the lack of association between the MMPI-2 infrequency scales and SVT failure is limited to civil forensic settings.


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Understanding malingering in children

From the December 2006 issue of the Archives of Clinical Neuropsychology, a new study from Alicia Nagle and colleagues explores what happens when children are instructed to feign cognitive impairment in a learning test:

Thirty-five children ages 6–12 years were asked to complete two alternate forms of the Hopkins Verbal Learning Test-Revised (HVLT-R), once with the instruction to feign cognitive impairment and once instructed to do their best. They were also asked to complete the Test of Memory Malingering (TOMM). Regardless of condition, children performed comparably to adult norms on the TOMM, obtaining a score of 45 or above on Trial 2. Regarding the HVLT-R, differences emerged only when children were initially told to “do their best,” followed by a subsequent trial in which they were told feign impairment. Within this group of participants, children demonstrated significantly lower levels of learning across trials and fewer words recalled in comparison to when they were instructed to do their best. In contrast, no reliable differences on the HVLT-R were observed among children who were initially told to feign impairment and subsequently told to do their best. These results suggest that the elicitation of “feigned” impairment within this age group on the HVLT-R requires the initial provision of an opportunity for optimal performance. [Abstract © 2006 National Academy of Neuropsychology]


Youth deception: Malingering traumatic stress

Dennis P Carmody and Angela M Crossman
Journal of Forensic Psychiatry and Psychology 16(3), pp 477 – 493, September 2005

To explore how youths malinger symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), college students completed the Trauma Symptom Inventory (TSI) under standard instructions (honest condition). Then, after learning the symptomatology of traumatic stress, they completed the TSI a second time attempting to fake symptoms of PTSD (deception condition). Motivation level was manipulated: 100 students were given course credits, allowing them to avoid writing a research paper, while 50 students were paid and given the incentive of bonus money for successfully faking PTSD symptoms. Cutoff values were applied to the validity scores to identify students who were malingering by exaggerating or by over-endorsing symptoms.

Overall, a majority of participants (57%) responded in a manner that fabricated symptoms of PTSD in the deception condition. However, many of the fabricators (45%) did not pass the validity scales and were identified as malingerers. In addition, most of the successful malingers (66%) also over-endorsed the symptoms of dysphoria and reduced internal resources. This pattern of responding suggests that the malingering youths did not selectively endorse only symptoms of traumatic stress. Hence, some youths are capable of using minimal, publicly available information to fake symptoms of PTSD, regardless of motivation.