Historically, psychologists have not assessed performance validity in child assessments where there is potential for secondary gain, although children’s ability to malinger is a growing concern among psychologists. The present series of three simulation studies examined (1) children’s ability to withhold their best effort on psychological testing, (2) whether performance validity tests (PVTs) can accurately detect withholding, and (3) whether inhibitory control explains individual differences in withholding. Participants were children in grades four and six, and performance was measured using the WISC-IV PSI subtests and the RAVLT. PVTs included the MSVT and TOMM. Children were instructed to either try their best (BE condition) or withhold (WE condition) based on instructions in a storybook read to children by their parent/guardian the night before the testing session. Study 1 used a repeated measures design to first assess best effort and then children were either given the BE or WE storybook. Both cohorts of children in the WE condition performed worse on the RAVLT and PSI than children in the BE condition, the PVTs obtained moderate accuracy, and inhibitory control was unrelated to withholding. Study 2 examined whether prior exposure to the testing materials was necessary for children to withhold and only included one testing session. Children in grade 4 scored lower on the PSI than their best effort comparison group, but otherwise scores on the performance tests were not statistically different between groups based on instructions given. There were significant differences between the groups on the MSVT, although the classification accuracy was only moderate. Study 3 examined whether children could withhold their best effort without being reminded of the instructions prior to the testing session. There were no differences on the performance tests or PVTs between those instructed to withhold and the best effort comparison group, although the variances on the MSVT were unequal, suggesting that the instructions had an effect, albeit subtle. Overall, the results show that fewer children can withhold their best effort as the task becomes more difficult, but nevertheless some can still withhold under certain conditions. Limitations, future directions, and implications for clinical practice are discussed.
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Thesis advisor: Connolly, Deborah
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