New Release of World-Standard Psych Test for Today’s Population

The most widely used and researched test of adult psychological functioning, employed across the globe, just got a major update.

Earlier this month, the University of Minnesota Press announced the release of the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory–3 (MMPI-3), the first full revision of the assessment in over 30 years. The MMPI, born out of UMN research, is widely used by psychologists in mental health settings to help guide diagnosis and treatment planning. The test is also used to evaluate patients’ preparedness for medical procedures, inform forensic evaluations conducted in civil and criminal court cases, and to help identify high-risk employment candidates in public safety settings. The 335-question true/false test is published by U Press and distributed to qualified professionals by the clinical assessment division of global company Pearson.

Development of the MMPI-3 was led by co-authors Yossef Ben-Porath and Auke Tellegen. Ben-Porath, PhD, is a professor of psychological sciences at Kent State University and a board-certified clinical psychologist. He received his doctoral training at the University of Minnesota and has been involved in MMPI research for the past 35 years. Tellegen, PhD, is a professor emeritus of psychology in the UMN Twin Cities College of Liberal Arts. He also completed his doctoral training at the U, and has been a leading scholar in the field of personality assessment for over 50 years.

A major goal of the revision centered on the idea of ensuring that the widely used test continue to be accurate and effective, said Katie Nickerson, manager of the Press’s Test Division, whose team works with an external Test Division Advisory Board to establish the MMPI’s annual research and development priorities.

“Collecting new normative and clinical data for the MMPI-3 was a critical component of the development project,” she said. “When you have data that represent today’s population, as we now have with the MMPI-3, it makes the results salient and accurate for use in a wide variety of settings.”

The MMPI’s roots go back to 1943, when UMN clinical psychologist Starke Hathaway, PhD, and neuropsychiatrist J. Charnley McKinley, MD, created the first version of the test which, published by the Press, soon became the “gold standard” for psychological assessment.

In the 80s, the Press led the effort to bring together experts who could “restandardize” the test by collecting a new, nationally representative normative sample, which serves as the benchmark for understanding a test-taker’s scores. These experts also ensured the questions were still relevant and correctly worded. The updated version, dubbed the MMPI-2, was officially released in 1989 and became available in many translations. While more improvements and versions followed the MMPI-2’s release, the MMPI-3 marks the first full revision of the test, including an update of the test norms, since then.

Modernizing the Test

Work on the MMPI-3 began in 2013 with preliminary studies that explored how the test should be updated to improve the accuracy of the results. Ben-Porath and Tellegen rewrote some of the questions to simplify them and remove language that had become antiquated over the decades. They also examined whether using questions that offered four choices for a response would be more effective than true/false (they weren’t).

Next, they explored new questions to add to the assessment, ultimately choosing 95 new items to bring into field testing. Data were collected from over 16,000 people assessed in mental health, medical care, forensic, and public safety settings, as well as 8,000 college students. These data were used to make decisions about updating the test content and examine the validity of updated test scores.

The last part of data collection focused on creating a new normative sample—a key part in making the new test relevant to people today. A normative sample is essentially a benchmark that lets evaluators see how average or unusual an individuals’ test scores are when compared to the general adult population. The concept, Ben-Porath said, is similar to the way IQ tests are set up to measure intelligence—where a score of 100 is designed to signify average intelligence.

“We do the same thing with measures of psychopathology and personality,” he said. “We collect the normative sample and compare the test taker’s score and see if they are within the normal range, or if there’s something abnormal about their MMPI-3 scores, that would indicate some potential psychological dysfunction.”

The population has changed in many ways since the MMPI-2’s release, Ben-Porath said, noting that, for example, the US is now 62 percent white, not 82 percent, as it was when the MMPI-2 normative sample was collected. The MMPI-3’s nationally representative normative sample was selected to match the 2020 US census projections for race and ethnicity, education, and age. For the first time, this release also includes Spanish-language norms available for use within the US.

Updating the MMPI went beyond just matching today’s demographics, however. Measurement scales were added and updated to keep up with changes in psychology and society. When the MMPI-2 was released, for example, the internet had not yet become publicly available and social media didn’t exist at all. As these technologies grew to be a part of everyday life, they influenced psychological functioning. Among the new scales in the MMPI-3 are measurements for eating disorders, compulsivity, impulsivity, and self-importance.

Ben-Porath said the new version essentially recalibrated the test to provide more accurate information to aid in diagnosis, treatment planning and the many other uses of the test.

“There are some things that are salient today that were perhaps not as salient when the test was last updated in the 1980s,” he said. “We definitely wanted to make sure that everything the clinician would need to know about the person that’s being evaluated could be addressed with our updated assessment.”

Learn more about the MMPI-3.