Detecting coached neuropsychological dysfunction: a simulation experiment regarding mild traumatic brain injury

Lily Lau, Michael R Basso, Eduardo Estevis, Ashley Miller, Douglas M Whiteside, Dennis Combs, Timothy J Arentsen
Clinical Neuropsychologist 2017, 31 (8): 1412-1431

OBJECTIVE: Performance validity tests (PVTs) and symptom validity tests (SVTs) are often administered during neuropsychological evaluations. Examinees may be coached to avoid detection by measures of response validity. Relatively little research has evaluated whether graduated levels of coaching has differential effects upon PVT and SVT performance. Accordingly, the present experiment evaluated the effect of graduated levels of coaching upon the classification accuracy of commonly used PVTs and SVTs and the currently accepted criterion of failing two or more PVTs or SVTs.

METHOD: Participants simulated symptoms associated with mild traumatic brain injury (TBI). One group was provided superficial information concerning cognitive, emotional, and physical symptoms. Another group was provided detailed information about such symptoms. A third group was provided detailed information about symptoms and guidance how to evade detection by PVTs. These groups were compared to an honest-responding group. Extending prior experiments, stand-alone and embedded PVT measures were administered in addition to SVTs.

RESULTS: The three simulator groups were readily identified by PVTs and SVTs, but a meaningful minority of those provided test-taking strategies eluded detection. The Word Memory Test emerged as the most sensitive indicator of simulated mild TBI symptoms. PVTs achieved more sensitive detection of simulated head injury status than SVTs.

CONCLUSIONS: Individuals coached to modify test-taking performance were marginally more successful in eluding detection by PVTs and SVTs than those coached with respect to TBI symptoms only. When the criterion of failing two or more PVTs or SVTs was applied, only 5% eluded detection.

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