Exploring The MMPI Test

Medically reviewed by Arianna Williams, LPC, CCTP
Updated May 7, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

The Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) is a clinical assessment tool, specifically a psychological test, used by mental health professionals to help diagnose mental health conditions, including mental illness. Developed at the University of Minnesota, it assesses personality traits and symptom validity, aiming to identify mental health disorders. Read on to learn more about the history of the MMPI, its applications, and what to expect when taking the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory.

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The history of the MMPI test

As explained on the University of Minnesota’s website, the MMPI test was devised in 1937 by clinical psychologist Starke R. Hathaway and neuropsychiatrist J. Charnley McKinley. They created it for use at the university’s Department of Psychiatry, as previous self-report-style tests were not objective enough to achieve validity. The test they created was first published in 1942 and gained widespread acceptance by the late 1950s. By 1976, the test had been translated into 50 languages for global use.

In 1989, an updated version of the test called the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory-2 (MMPI-2) was released. The update revised outdated or offensive content and updated scales without making decades of research obsolete. Older versions of the test focused on clinical scales, each representing a clinical condition. Newer scales aimed to identify symptoms tied to various mental health disorders.

Since then, several updated versions of the MMPI test have been released regularly over time. After the MMPI-2 was published in 1989, the MMPI-2-RF followed in 2008, and the MMPI-3 was published in 2020. The MMPI-A and MMPI-A-RF are two different versions of the personality test intended for adolescents ages 14–18.

Today, Dr. Ben-Porath is considered one of the top experts on the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI), as he coauthored many of the most recent versions of the test.

What the MMPI test is used for

Mental health professionals use the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) as one source of information about a patient's mental health, alongside observations and discussions with the patient. The test is used to identify mental health disorders—such as depression, anxiety, or schizophrenia—as a first step toward a treatment plan. 

Outside of a mental health treatment setting, an MMPI test is sometimes used in substance use programs, child custody disputes, or for educational purposes. It's also been administered as part of employment screenings, though this application is controversial because it has been argued that this use violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

If you are struggling with substance use, contact the SAMHSA National Helpline at (800) 662-4357 to receive support and resources. Support is available 24/7.

MMPI measures

The MMPI is renowned for its extensive set of clinical scales, which assess various aspects of an individual's personality and psychopathology. Originally, the MMPI contained ten clinical scales with various test items, but newer versions have added supplementary scales. The core clinical scales include: 

  • Scale 1 (Hs): Hypochondriasis - Measures an individual's preoccupation with bodily functioning and health concerns. 
  • Scale 2 (D): Depression - Assesses the presence and severity of depressive symptoms. 
  • Scale 3 (Hy): Hysteria - Evaluates an individual's tendency to experience somatic symptoms in response to stress. 
  • Scale 4 (Pd): Psychopathic Deviate - Measures antisocial behavior, rebelliousness, and disregard for social norms. 
  • Scale 5 (Mf): Masculinity-Femininity - Assesses gender role identification and interests. 
  • Scale 6 (Pa): Paranoia - Evaluates levels of suspiciousness, persecution, and distrust. 
  • Scale 7 (Pt): Psychasthenia - Measures anxiety, obsessive-compulsive tendencies, and feelings of inadequacy. 
  • Scale 8 (Sc): Schizophrenia - Assesses thought disturbances, peculiar perceptions, and social alienation. 
  • Scale 9 (Ma): Hypomania - Evaluates the presence of elevated mood, increased energy, and impulsive behavior. 
  • Scale 0 (Si): Social Introversion - Measures social introversion, shyness, and preference for solitude.

MMPI test validity scales 

The MMPI also includes validity scales that help determine the test taker's response patterns and the accuracy of the results. These validity scales are essential for identifying exaggeration, minimization, or inconsistencies in the responses. Some of the key validity scales include: 

  • L Scale (Lie Scale): Identifies individuals who may be presenting themselves in a more favorable light by denying minor flaws and common shortcomings. 
  • F Scale (Infrequency Scale): Detects unusual or atypical response patterns that may indicate random responding, over-reporting, or an attempt to "fake bad." 
  • K Scale (Defensiveness Scale): Measures an individual's tendency to under-report psychological symptoms, which may be an attempt to "fake good" or avoid revealing personal problems. 
  • VRIN (Variable Response Inconsistency): Assesses the consistency of responses to similar items throughout the test, identifying random or careless responses. 
  • TRIN (True Response Inconsistency): Evaluates the consistency of true and false responses, detecting acquiescence or oppositional response patterns. 

Together, the clinical and validity scales of the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) allow mental health professionals to obtain a comprehensive understanding of an individual's personality, psychopathology, and response patterns, which aids in the diagnosis and treatment of mental health conditions.

What to expect if you’re taking the MMPI

It’s important to note that the MMPI is not a test that individuals take on their own to get insights about their personality or functioning. It’s a clinical tool that’s primarily used in clinical settings.

So if you take the MMPI, it will typically be administered by a mental health professional. They are trained and possess crystallized intelligence not only in knowing when the test may be useful but also in interpreting the results. Without the proper training and experience, understanding the results of the test is generally quite difficult, if not impossible. It’s not pass/fail, as there are no “right” answers to the questions. Instead, the results of the test will be interpreted against a number of different scales in order to understand what they may indicate.

If a licensed mental health professional has you take the MMPI-3, here’s what to expect. It’s made up of 335 true/false statements, which take between 30 and 50 minutes for most people to complete, depending on whether it’s done on a computer or on paper. Other versions of the test will likely be similar and contain various true/false statements. When you’ve finished, the therapist, psychiatrist, or other trained professional who administered the test will interpret the results and make a decision accordingly about potential next steps for treatment.


Gaining insights into your mental health

All versions of the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory are intended for use only by mental health professionals. If you believe you may have a mental health condition, connecting with a licensed therapist to discuss it should generally be your next step. They can use their expertise and training to evaluate you based on the measures they believe are best, which may or may not include the MMPI. In many cases, a counselor may rely on talk therapy to gain insight into a person's mental state and understand how best to help them with their challenges.

If you believe you may be experiencing symptoms of a mental health condition or would simply like to process your feelings or work to reach your goals with the help of a therapist, online therapy is an option some people choose. Research suggests that it's as effective as in-person therapy for various conditions and needs, and a platform like BetterHelp can connect you with the right mental health professional based on a questionnaire you fill out. While some people prefer in-person therapy, online therapy can be an additional option for those who prefer attending sessions virtually from home. Choosing the format that works best for you is key.

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The Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) is a comprehensive psychological test that includes various test items designed to evaluate various aspects of an individual's personality and mental health. Some of these items measure peculiar perceptions, which can help identify thought disturbances and unusual experiences. While taking the test online may seem convenient, it is essential to remember that doing so without the guidance of a mental health professional could lead to inaccurate results, particularly when dealing with undiagnosed medical conditions.

If you’re facing mental health concerns or challenges, know that therapists and mental health professionals are available to help you address them. A trained mental health professional can administer the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) or other assessments, such as Pearson assessments, in a clinical setting and offer proper guidance.

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