From: “Robert M. Gordon”
Date: January 13, 2010 9:30:02 PM EST
Subject: Re: [PPA] college students, the MMPI and pathology
Reply-To: “Robert M. Gordon”
Thanks for this study comparing MMPI scores from students in 1938 and 2007. This is a good example of the problems of interpreting causative hypotheses form correlational data. Their assumption is that students are more mentally ill now.
I noticed the same differences in adults when the MMPI-2 first came out in 1989. But I looked at not just the scale differences but also what items within the scales were meaningfully different (I would not worry about “significant” differences in p values since the N is 77,576. They were right to speak in terms of %)
Of course I have a completely different take than these authors after my studying the subscales and actual item differences. I do not think that there were the “good old days” and that now students are more mentally ill.
When comparing the MMPI norms of 1938 to the MMPI-2 norms of the late 1980′s, the specific increased means in K, Hy, Pd, Pa, Ma and Mf in males, I believe, reflect not only the higher SES and education of the MMPI-2 sample over the original sample, but that overall, people today are more psychologically sophisticated than in 1938. The higher scores in Hy and Pa are due to the higher means in Hy2 Need for Affection and Pa3 Naivete, K, Hy2 and Pa3 measure confidence, trust and honesty in normals. The higher Pd is associated with admitting to common faults (being more honest), e.g. stealing something as a child, or being disappointed in love. The elevation in Ma is due mainly to Ma2 Psychomotor Acceleration. The pace of life is faster today than in 1938, and people today seek more stimulation. The higher Mf for men is associated with items that show that men are more sensitive today than in their grandfather’s time, e.g. men today are less likely to think that teasing animals is fun, or exploit friends, and more likely to admit to feelings and talk about them.
The MMPI-2 manual lists the percent of males and females answering “true” to each item. The biggest difference is that today 77% of females and 70% of males say that they are an important person. However, over forty years ago, only 9% of females and 17 percent of males said “true” to item 61. That item is on the Hypomania scale to assess egotism. It was a valid item then, but is it now, when 70-77% of the sample today say that they are an important person? Are people much more egotistical today, or are people interpreting the meaning of an “important person” differently? I think it is mainly the latter, though the issue is up for debate. In the past, individuals associated an important person with position and wealth. Today, with the popularization of psychology, people are told that they are intrinsically important regardless of position, wealth or other external factors.
The responses to the items indicate that people today are more psychologically minded, confident, open, trusting, thrill seeking and interested in looking attractive than two generations ago. There have been changes toward healthier sex role attitudes. Men are less likely to see friends in terms of how useful they are (item 254). This went from 50% “true” to 24% “true”. Men are less likely to say that it is better to keep their mouth shut when in trouble (item 26, from 68% to 47%). Men are also more likely to admit to being disappointed in love (item 219, 24% to 51%), to feel more intensely than most others (item 271, 23% to 39%) and are less likely to think that teasing animals is a lot of fun (item 68, 45% to 28%). Overall, men are more sensitive and open than in the past.
Women also are responding in a direction indicating a healthy change in sex role behavior. Women are more likely to say that they should have as much sexual freedom as men, than they did in the past (item 88, 52% to 83%). (Interestingly, it was women that were judgmental of women, men remained high in their beliefs that there should not be a double standard, 83% to 89%.) More women today believe it is ok to laugh at a dirty joke ( item 260, from, 78% to 90%), and more likely to talk up in a group of people (item 262, from 55% to 72%).
People are more open and honest about sex according to their responses. People in the MMPI-2 sample were more likely to say that they like to flirt, talk about sex, like sexual stories and jokes, and are less likely to believe that a large number of people are guilty of bad sexual conduct.
The differences also indicate that people are more psychologically minded today. For example, the item #13 on the MMPI-2 that one should try to understand what dreams mean and be guided by them is keyed “true” on scales 6, 7, and 8 (Paranoia, Psychasthenia and Schizophrenia). Once, this was a crazy thought. Not today, when dream research is often in the press stating that dreams can not only tell us about past traumas, but also tell us how we may react to certain situations. Fifteen percent of the females responded “true” in 1938, now females respond “true” 34% of the time. Males went from 13% to 27%. People are more likely to say that they do dream, and admit that they have dreams about sex. People are less likely to state that they wish that they were a child again, less likely to state that they cannot understand why they get angry, less likely to feel that they are misunderstood, or feel that stepping on the sidewalk cracks is something to be avoided. People in the MMPI-2 sample were more likely to state that the hardest battles are with themselves, and that they know who is responsible for their problems. All these changes indicate greater insight about dreams, feelings, ones own responsibility for personal problems and less superstition.
The MMPI-2 sample indicates that people today have a more benign attitude towards others. They are less likely to feel that: people exaggerate a lot to get sympathy, that it is safer to trust no one, that most people do not want to know the truth and that it is better to be on guard with people who seem friendlier than one would expect. People in the MMPI-2 sample are more likely to state that: they are important, would be a good leader, and if they had the chance, that they would be a benefit to the world.
Overall, I believe that the changes in the MMPI-2 sample’s responses to the items as compared to the original sample from 1938 indicates that people are more open with their emotions and feelings, have more confidence, have less rigid sex roles and are more psychologically minded than in the past.
Bob (the MMPI guy)
Study: More of today’s US youth have serious mental health issues than previous generations
By Martha Irvine
CHICAGO A new study has found that five times as many high school and college students in the U.S. are dealing with anxiety and other mental health issues than youth of the same age who were studied in the Great Depression era.
The findings, culled from responses to a popular psychological questionnaire used as far back as 1938, confirm what counsellors on campuses nationwide have long suspected as more students struggle with the stresses of school and life in general.
“It’s another piece of the puzzle – that yes, this does seem to be a problem, that there are more young people who report anxiety and depression,” says Jean Twenge, a San Diego State University psychology professor and the study’s lead author. “The next question is: what do we do about it?”
Though the study, released Monday, does not provide a definitive correlation, Twenge and mental health professionals speculate that a popular culture increasingly focused on the external – from wealth to looks and status – has contributed to the uptick in mental health issues.
Pulling together the data for the study was no small task. Led by Twenge, researchers at five universities analyzed the responses of 77,576 high school or college students who, from 1938 through 2007, took the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, or MMPI. The results will be published in a future issue of the Clinical Psychology Review.
Overall, an average of five times as many students in 2007 surpassed thresholds in one or more mental health categories, compared with those who did so in 1938. A few individual categories increased at an even greater rate – with six times as many scoring high in two areas:
-”hypomania,” a measure of anxiety and unrealistic optimism (from 5 per cent of students in 1938 to 31 per cent in 2007)