Monday, August 16, 2010

Research brief 8-16-10: Do warnings deter malingering during psych testing?

Schenk, K., & Sullivan, K. A. (2010). Do warnings deter rather than produce more sophisticated malingering?
Journal of Clinical and Experimental Neuropsychology, 32(7), 752-762.

Following Youngjohn, Lees-Haley, and Binder's (1999) comment on Johnson and Lesniak-Karpiak's (1997) study that warnings lead to more subtle malingering, researchers have sought to better understand warning effects. However, such studies have been largely atheoretical and may have confounded warning and coaching. This study examined the effect on malingering of a warning that was based on criminological-sociological concepts derived from the rational choice model of deterrence theory. A total of 78 participants were randomly assigned to a control group, an unwarned simulator group, or one of two warned simulator groups. The warning groups comprised low- and high-level conditions depending on warning intensity. Simulator participants received no coaching about how to fake tests. Outcome variables were scores derived from the Test of Memory Malingering and Wechsler Memory Scale-III. When the rate of malingering was compared across the four groups, a high-level warning effect was found such that warned participants were significantly less likely to exaggerate than unwarned simulators. In an exploratory follow-up analysis, the warned groups were divided into those who reported malingering and those who did not report malingering, and the performance of these groups was compared to that of unwarned simulators and controls. Using this approach, results showed that participants who were deterred from malingering by warning performed no worse than controls. However, on a small number of tests, self-reported malingerers in the low-level warning group appeared less impaired than unwarned simulators. This pattern was not observed in the high-level warning condition. Although cautious interpretation of findings is necessitated by the exploratory nature of some analyses, overall results suggest that using a carefully designed warning may be useful for reducing the rate of malingering. The combination of some noteworthy effect sizes, despite low power and the small size of some groups, suggests that further investigation of the effects of warnings needs to continue to determine their effect more fully.

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