What is the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI)?

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The Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory is the most widely used and researched personality assessment instrument in clinical practice. It is primarily used to aid in the diagnosis and assessment of the major psychological disorders.
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The Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI/MMPI-2) was developed during the late 1930s, reaching publication in 1943. The authors of the test were Starke R. Hathaway, a psychologist, and J. C. McKinley, a physician to whom Hathaway reported at the University of Minnesota Hospitals. The test was originally developed to aid in the assessment of adult psychiatric patients, both to describe the type and severity of their disturbance and to measure patient change over time. It quickly grew in popularity to become the most widely used and researched psychological test ever published.

Three characteristics distinguished the MMPI from the psychological tests of the 1930s. First, it was developed as a broadband test, that is, a multiphasic test that would assess a number of personality attributes in a single administration. Most personality tests up to that time were more narrow in their focus. Second, this was the first personality test to use an empirical method of selecting test questions. This procedure involved selecting test items that differentiated between persons making up a normal population and persons in the clinical group of interest (such as individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia, depression, or other psychiatric disorders) at a statistically significant level. Third, the MMPI incorporated validity scales, or measures of test-taking attitude that identified tendencies to either underreport or overreport psychopathology.


An important limitation of the original MMPI had to do with its normative sample, or the reference group used to represent the normal population (in contrast to the clinical groups). The original normal reference group consisted primarily of a rural, all white, eighth-grade-educated population who were visiting patients at the University of Minnesota Hospital. Over time, a number of criticisms were made that this group, predominantly Scandinavian in origin, was not representative of the broader United States population. Other problems with the MMPI also developed, including outdated test item content, poorly worded items, or item content objectionable to contemporary test takers (for instance, questions regarding religious beliefs or bodily functions). In response to such concerns, an MMPI restandardization project was begun in 1982, culminating in the publication of the MMPI-2 in 1989. Comparison of the restandardized normal sample to 1990 census data by ethnicity, age, and education indicated that the new normative group was significantly more representative of the United States population than were the original norms, with the exception that well-educated persons were overrepresented. The MMPI-2 also incorporated additional validity measures and newly developed scales reflecting contemporary clinical problems.

Description of the Test

The MMPI-2 is an objectively scored, standardized questionnaire consisting of 567 self-descriptive statements answered as either “true” or “false.” Responses can be either hand- or computer-scored and are summarized on a profile sheet. Interpretation is based on both the configuration of scales on the profile sheet and demographic variables characterizing the test-taker. The basic profile sheet is made up of nine validity measures and ten traditional clinical scales. Fifteen additional “content” scales can also be scored, as well as potentially hundreds of supplementary and research scales. The validity scales measure test-taking attitudes, including such characteristics as consistencies in response patterns and tendencies to exaggerate or minimize psychological problems. The clinical scales are labeled both by a number and with traditional psychiatric diagnostic labels such as depression, paranoia, and schizophrenia. The specific MMPI scale labels may be misleading in that some diagnostic labels are outdated (such as “psychasthenia” or “hysteria”). In addition, the scales do not effectively differentiate diagnostic groups (for instance, an elevation on the paranoia scale is not exclusive to persons with a paranoia diagnosis). It has thus become standard practice to refer to profiles by characteristic scale numbers (such as a “49” profile) and to interpret them according to relevant research rather than by scale labels. The fifteen content scales reflect the client’s endorsement of test items whose content is obvious and descriptive of particular problem areas such as anxiety, health concerns, or family problems. The many supplementary scales measure a wide range of concerns, ranging from addiction proneness to post-traumatic stress disorder to marital distress. The MMPI-2 is appropriate for use only with those aged eighteen years and older. A shorter version of the test, the MMPI-A, is available for use with fourteen- to eighteen-year-old adolescents.

Although the MMPI-2 is still widely administered, there is a revised version published in 2008 known as the MMPI-2 Restructured Form (MMPI-2-RF). The MMPI-2-RF is 338 questions long and scores test-takers on a set of clinical scales which has been altered to better reflect the current understanding of the psychological issues covered by the test.


Ben-Porath, Yossef S. Interpreting the MMPI-2-RF. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2012. Print.

Butcher, James N., ed. Basic Sources on the MMPI-2. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2000. Print.

Butcher, James N., ed. International Adaptations of the MMPI-2. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1996. Print.

Butcher, James N., and Carolyn L. Williams. "Personality Assessment with the MMPI-2: Historical Roots, Internatinoal Adaptations, and Current Challenges." Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being 1.1 (2009): 105–35. Print.

Butcher, James N., and John R. Graham. Development and Use of the MMPI-2 Content Scales. 3d ed. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2007.

Caldwell, Alex B. “What Do the MMPI Scales Fundamentally Measure? Some Hypotheses.” Journal of Personality Assessment 76.1 (2001): 1–17. Print.

Dahlstrom, W. G., D. Lachar, and L. W. Dahlstrom. MMPI Patterns of American Minorities. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1986. Print.

Framingham, Jane. "Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI)." Psych Central. Psych Central, 2011. Web. 20 May 2014.

Friedman, A. F., R. Lewak, D. S. Nichols, and J. T. Webb. Psychological Assessment with the MMPI-2. Mahwah: Erlbaum, 2001. Print.

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