Issue of Faking in Psychological Assessment

Psychology has to collect individual data to draw conclusions and develop interpretations. This means that gathering accurate data is crucial for the discipline's credibility. However, because human beings are not rational creatures, we are prone to biases and favoritism this process becomes complicated.

What is Faking?

In psychometrics, the issue of faking comes under response bias or response style. They are patterns one adopts while answering a researcher's questions that make them deviate from the basic information. Psychology often touches on incredibly private sections of a person's life, and they might be hesitant in self-disclosure. This is relevant to the issue of faking as a person may try to alter their responses to project a certain image of themselves to others. They may try to portray themselves as a morally right person and norm-conforming individual. This threatens the empirical validity of psychology as a discipline. Types of response faking are listed below

Faking Good

Faking good response style (FGR) refers to the deliberate manipulation of self-reported data in psychological research to present oneself in a socially desirable manner. This phenomenon is a significant issue in psychological research, as it can compromise the validity and accuracy of the results, leading to incorrect conclusions and a lack of generalizability to the larger population. One of the main reasons why individuals engage in FGR is to present themselves in a positive light, such as to appear more socially desirable or to avoid social stigma. For example, individuals may be more likely to report higher levels of well-being or fewer mental health problems than they experience to avoid disclosing these issues' negative consequences.

However, FGR can also have significant negative consequences for psychological research. For example, suppose individuals engage in FGR. In that case, the results may overestimate the prevalence of positive traits or underestimate the prevalence of negative traits in the population, leading to incorrect conclusions about the population's characteristics. This can result in the development of inaccurate interventions or treatment plans that may need to be more effective for the target population. To address the issue of FGR in psychological research, researchers may use several techniques involving

  • Behavioral observations and other methods to obtain a comprehensive and accurate picture of an individual's functioning.

  • Randomized response and item response theory to counteract the effects of FGR.

  • Educating participants about the importance of accurate self-report data and the negative consequences of FGR.

Faking Bad

Faking bad response style (FBR) refers to the deliberate manipulation of self-reported data in psychological research to present oneself socially undesirable manner. This phenomenon can occur in psychological research, particularly in assessments of mental health and well-being, where individuals may feel pressured to present themselves in a negative light in order to access support or services. In addition to compromising the validity of research results, FBR can also negatively affect individuals who engage in this behavior. For example, individuals may be misdiagnosed with mental health problems, leading to inappropriate treatment plans or interventions that may not be effective for their needs. Furthermore, individuals who engage in FBR may also be more likely to experience stigma, as their self-reported data may not reflect their true experiences or needs.


Acquiescence, also known as social desirability bias, refers to the tendency of individuals to give answers that are perceived as socially desirable in psychological research. This phenomenon occurs when individuals respond in a way that aligns with societal norms and expectations rather than accurately reflecting their true beliefs, attitudes, or experiences. Acquiescence can significantly impact the validity and accuracy of psychological research, as it can lead to an overestimation or underestimation of certain attitudes, beliefs, or experiences. For example, individuals may be more likely to report positive attitudes towards certain behaviors or beliefs perceived as socially desirable, even if these attitudes do not accurately reflect their true beliefs.

In addition, acquiescence can also lead to masking important information in psychological research, particularly in mental health areas where individuals may be reluctant to report negative experiences or attitudes due to stigma or shame. This can result in an inaccurate representation of the population's prevalence and severity of certain mental health problems.


Evasiveness in psychological research refers to the tendency of individuals to avoid answering questions or to provide vague, ambiguous, or socially desirable answers. This phenomenon occurs when individuals are reluctant to provide accurate information about their beliefs, attitudes, or experiences due to fear of judgment, embarrassment, or a desire to present themselves in a positive light.

Legal Issues

The subject of forgery is particularly pertinent to a variety of legal concerns. The persistence of psychosis, for example, is of particular significance because a defendant may be ruled legally insane or incompetent to stand trial based on such a diagnosis. However, little empirical study on the frequency of malingering in a criminal forensic population exists, partly due to the criteria dilemma - what are we to use as a standard of "truth" against which to compare our test results?

Cornell and Hawk (1989) discovered an incidence of identified malingering of psychosis of 8% (25 instances out of 314) among criminal offenders referred for competence to stand trial and insanity examination. Malingerers were distinguished from real psychotics by a combination of factors that, when combined in a discriminant function analysis, accurately identified 89.1% of the cases. Although several symptoms, such as disordered mood and delusions, might be easily examined by a test such as the MMPI, no tests were utilized in this study. Another concern is that doctors have typically worked for the client; if testing is to be done, it must be a collaborative effort between clinician and client to serve the client. In forensic situations, however, the clinician frequently assumes a neutral role that the defendant may perceive as adversarial - i.e., the client is being tested to determine insanity, not necessarily because the client is to be helped, but because the court or the legal proceedings mandate such an evaluation.

Techniques to Discourage Faking

There are various techniques to discourage faking.

Intentional Distortion − People can be coached to falsify their results on personality tests in the desired manner. To cope with such purposeful distortion, many ways have been used

  • Instructions or cautions that distortion will be identified and punished. Although such warnings appear to lower the amount of deliberate distortion, scientific evidence is weak. There is evidence that different sorts of instructions result in various faking degrees.

  • The use of forced-choice items based on social desirability. Such scales, however, are still susceptible to fraud, and their adoption does not appear to be the solution.

  • The utilization of subtle vs. obvious objects, items where the underlying construct is unclear.

  • Application of validity scales. Most personality assessments have such scales; for example, the MMPI, CPI, and Personality Research forms have them.

Disguised Titles − Individual scales, as opposed to multivariate instruments such as the MMPI or CPI, may utilize disguised titles to avoid establishing a "set" in the client that might lead to response distortion. For example, the Maslach Burnout Inventory is given under the title "Human Services Survey," presumably to avoid any prejudice that the term "burnout" could elicit.

Filler Items − A variety of scales utilize filler items, items put throughout the scale that are not scored, especially when they are quite brief and when their function is evident. For example, Rotter's (1967) Interpersonal Trust Scale has a masked title (the General Opinion Survey), and 15 of its 40 items are fillers meant to cover the scale's purpose further. There is scant evidence that using disguised titles and filler items prevents faking or distorting replies. The benign title and filler items appear to have no major influence on the reliability and validity of Rotter's Interpersonal Trust Scale. Given that filler items can be difficult to create, extend the length of a test, and make scoring the exam slightly more complex, a study into the efficacy of this strategy is required.

Forced-Choice Format − One of the drawbacks of a forced-choice format is that it reduces dependability. If a response set is in use, the person who selects "true" as the answer will continue to do so throughout test questions and test administrations. If we remove this answer set now, dependability will suffer as well. Most of the time, this is of little consequence because the reduction will be minimal (not everyone will reply true all of the time), and there may be an increase in construct validity - that is, we are measuring more of what the test truly measures. However, if the drop in reliability is significant, we may not be able to attain validity with low reliability. This complaint is raised towards the EPPS, which employs forced-choice items to adjust for social desirability.

Developing Faking Scales − Two main techniques may be used to develop any personality scale. The first is the empirical method, in which items for a scale are chosen based on the differential endorsement. The reasonable approach is the second. The things that will make up a prospective malingering scale are chosen based on their content. Items that indicate extremely implausible conduct (for example, I read every editorial column in the newspaper every day), claims of great virtue (I have never lied in my life), and nonexistent activities (I am one of the few people who grasp the notion of relative reciprocal tropism). The things are then empirically examined to see if they function.

Symptom Validity Testing − This method repeatedly presents two alternatives, forced-choice discrimination situations. With no knowledge of the right replies, the likelihood of a given outcome will follow a binomial distribution. If you avoid giving the right answers (malingers), your score will be significantly lower than the chance. This is analogous to having a blindfolded individual determine the direction of a coin's landing across many coin tosses. If the individual is blinded, their estimates should be 50% right. If they look through the blindfold, their replies will be more right than we would predict based on the binomial distribution. Similarly, if they are pessimistic and respond "heads" when peeking and see "tails," their response accuracy will be below chance in the long term.


Faking is a significant issue in research that can compromise the validity and accuracy of results and ensure that their results are accurate and representative of the larger population. Researchers can reduce the likelihood of faking a desirable response by using a combination of objective measures, measures designed to counteract faking, and best practices in survey design and administration.

Updated on: 15-Feb-2023


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