Reassessing the “Traditional Background Hypothesis” for Elevated MMPI and MMPI-2 Lie-Scale Scores

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The Lie (L) scale of the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) is widely regarded as a measure of conscious attempts to deny common human foibles and to present oneself in an unrealistically positive light. At the same time, the current MMPI-2 manual states that “traditional” and religious backgrounds can account for elevated L scale scores as high as 65T–79T, thereby tempering impression management interpretations for faith-based individuals. To assess the validity of the traditional background hypothesis, we reviewed 11 published studies that employed the original MMPI with religious samples and found that only 1 obtained an elevated mean L score. We then conducted a meta-analysis of 12 published MMPI-2 studies in which we compared L scores of religious samples to the test normative group. The meta-analysis revealed large between-study heterogeneity (I2 = 87.1), L scale scores for religious samples that were somewhat higher but did not approach the upper limits specified in the MMPI-2 manual, and an overall moderate effect size ( d = 0.54, p < .001; 95% confidence interval [0.37, 0.70]). Our analyses indicated that religious-group membership accounts, on average, for elevations on L of about 5 t-score points. Whether these scores reflect conscious “fake good” impression management or religious-based virtuousness remains unanswered.

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