Performance validity in undergraduate research participants: a comparison of failure rates across tests and cutoffs

Kelly Y An, Kristen Kaploun, Laszlo A Erdodi, Christopher A Abeare
Clinical Neuropsychologist 2017, 31 (1): 193-206

OBJECTIVE: This study compared failure rates on performance validity tests (PVTs) across liberal and conservative cutoffs in a sample of undergraduate students participating in academic research.

METHOD: Participants (n = 120) were administered four free-standing PVTs (Test of Memory Malingering, Word Memory Test, Rey 15-Item Test, Hiscock Forced-Choice Procedure) and three embedded PVTs (Digit Span, letter and category fluency). Participants also reported their perceived level of effort during testing.

RESULTS: At liberal cutoffs, 36.7% of the sample failed ≥1 PVTs, 6.7% failed ≥2, and .8% failed 3. At conservative cutoffs, 18.3% of the sample failed ≥1 PVTs, 2.5% failed ≥2, and .8% failed 3. Participants were 3 to 5 times more likely to fail embedded (15.8-30.8%) compared to free-standing PVTs (3.3-10.0%). There was no significant difference in failure rates between native and non-native English speaking participants at either liberal or conservative cutoffs. Additionally, there was no relation between self-reported effort and PVT failure rates.

CONCLUSIONS: Although PVT failure rates varied as a function of PVTs and cutoffs, between a third and a fifth of the sample failed ≥1 PVTs, consistent with high initial estimates of invalid performance in this population. Embedded PVTs had notably higher failure rates than free-standing PVTs. Assuming optimal effort in research using students as participants without a formal assessment of performance validity introduces a potentially significant confound in the study design.

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