Date of Award
Master of Science in Psychology
Malingering, the feigning or exaggeration of illness or injury in order to obtain an external reward, is a well-studied topic in forensic psychology and neuropsychology. In recent years, considerable research has examined coached malingering, or ways in which individuals may gather information to develop a strategy to avoid being detected as a malingerer. One example of coached malingering is using the Internet to seek out information on which measures in a typical neuropsychological battery may be used to identify malingerers. Obtaining this information allows individuals to devise a strategy for how to perform on such tests to avoid detection. Previous studies on coached malingering often use vague or unhelpful instructions for the participants who are assigned to the coaching condition. Although these instructions may be helpful for a select subset of participants, they often pale in comparison to the amount of information on malingering measures available through the Internet.
The current study sought to examine the effect of using more specific coaching instructions, similar to the information one could obtain from a brief Internet search. There were four conditions in this study: control, no coaching, non-specific coaching, and specific coaching. Participants in all conditions except for the controls were given a hypothetical car accident scenario instructing them to malinger head injury. Participants in the non-specific and specific coaching conditions were given additional instructions warning about the use of measures to detect faking. Participants were then administered three neuropsychological tests (HVLT-R, TOMM, BVMT-R) followed by a brief questionnaire. There were three main hypotheses in this study: 1) participants in the specific coaching condition will demonstrate two performance characteristics needed to malinger successfully more often than those who do not receive specific coaching: a) they will perform poorly on at least one of the standard tests, and b) will pass the malingering test; 2) participants in the specific coaching condition will have greater accuracy identifying the purpose of the administered tests; and 3) participants in the no coaching condition will have poorer scores across all measures compared to the specific and non-specific coaching groups.
The results of the study showed that participants in the specific coaching condition had higher rates of passing the malingering measure (100%) compared to the no coaching (0%) and non-specific coaching (22.2%) conditions. In addition, all participants in the no coaching and specific coaching conditions and all but one in the non-specific coaching condition performed poorly on one or both of the genuine memory measures (HVLT-R and BVMT-R). Participants across conditions had varying rates of success in identifying the purpose of each measure. The findings in the current study indicate that individuals who are provided with information similar to what could be obtained through a brief Internet search on a common measure of malingering can develop a strategy to pass that measure while still performing poorly on other standard tests in order to successfully feign cognitive impairment.
Kovach, Shannon, "The Effect of Coaching on the Ability to Identify and Pass a Measure of Insufficient Effort" (2017). Open Access Master's Theses. Paper 1147.