Computer-based psychological interpretation systems usually provide a comprehensive interpretation of relevant test variables, along with scores, indexes, critical item responses, and so forth. The narrative report for a computer-based psychological test interpretation is often designed to read like a psychological report that has been prepared by a practitioner. However, psychological tests differ with respect to the amount of valid and reliable information available about them and consequently differ in terms of the time required to program the information into an effective interpretive system. Of course, if more research is available about a particular instrument, the more likely it is that the interpretations will be accurate. Instruments that have been widely researched, such as the MMPI and MMPI-2 (which have a research base of more than 10,000 articles) will likely have a more defensible interpretive system than a will test that has little or no research base. Test users need to be aware of the fact that some test interpretation systems that are commercially available are published with minimal established validity research. Simply being available commercially by computer does not assure test validity.
Steps in the Development of a Narrative Report
In developing a computer-based narrative report, the system developer typically follows several steps:
• Develops a systematic strategy for storing and retrieving relevant test information. This initial phase of development sets out the rationale and procedure for incorporating the published research findings into a coherent theme.
• Designs a computer program that scores the relevant scales and indexes and presents the information in a consistent and familiar form. This step may involve development of a program that accurately plots test profiles.
• Writes a dictionary of appropriate and validated test behaviors or correlates that can serve as the narrative data base. The test index definitions stored into memory can vary in complexity, ranging from discrete behaviors (e.g., if Scale 1 receives a T score greater than 70, print the following: Reports many physical symptoms) to extensive descriptors (e.g., if Scale 2 receives a T score greater than 65, then print the following: This client has obtained a significant scale elevation on the depression scale. It is likely that he is reporting extensive mental health symptoms including depression, worry, low self-esteem, low energy, feelings of inadequacy, lacking in self-confidence, social withdrawal, and a range of physical complaints). The dictionary of stored test information can be quite extensive, particularly if the test on which it is based has a broad research base. For example, a comprehensive MMPI-2 based interpretive system would likely include hundreds of pages of stored behavioral correlates.
• Specifies the interpretive algorithms for combining test indexes and dictionary text. This component of the interpretive system is the engine for combining the test indexes to use in particular reports and locating the appropriate dictionary text relevant for the particular case.
• Organizes the narrative report in a logical and user-friendly format. Determines what information is available in the test being interpreted and organizes the information into a structure that maximizes the computer-generated hypotheses.
• Tests the system extensively before it is offered to the public. This may involve generating sample reports that test the system with a broad range of possible test scores and indexes.
• Eliminates internal contradictions within the system. This phase involves examining a broad range of reports on clients with known characteristics in order to modify the program to prevent contradictory or incorrect statements from appearing in the narrative.
• Revises the system periodically to take into account new research on the test instrument.
As Butcher (1987, 1995; Butcher et al., 1985) has discussed, there are definite responsibilities that users of computer-based psychological reports assume, and these responsibilities are especially important when the reports are used in forensic evaluations:
• It is important to ensure that appropriate custody of answer sheets and generated test materials be maintained (i.e., kept in a secure place). Practitioners should see to it that the client's test materials are properly labeled and securely stored so that records can be identified if circumstances call for recovery at a later date—for example, in a court case.
• The practitioner should closely follow computer-based validity interpretations because clients in both clinical and forensic cases may have motivation to distort their answers in order to present a particular pattern in the evaluation.
• It is up to the practitioner to ensure that there is an appropriate match between the prototypal report generated by the computer and background and other test information available about a particular client. Does the narrative report match the test scores generated by the scoring program? Please refer to the note at the end of the sample computerized narrative report presented in the appendix to this chapter. It is customary for reports to contain language that stresses the importance of the practitioner, making sure that the case matches the report.
• The practitioner must integrate congruent information from the client's background and other sources into evaluation based on test results. Computer-based reports are by necessity general personality or clinical descriptions based on prototypes.
• It is the responsibility of the practitioner using computer-based test interpretations to account for any possible discrepancies between the report and other client data.
Although the output of various interpretive systems can vary from one service to another or from one test to another, the Minnesota Report for the MMPI-2 offers a fairly representative example of what one might expect when using computerized interpretation services. The MMPI-2 responses for the case of Della B. were submitted to National Computer
Systems, and the resulting report is presented in the appendix to this chapter.
Della, a 22-year-old woman, was evaluated by a forensic psychologist at the request of her attorney. She and her husband had been charged with the murder of their 16-month-old child. Della, who was 5 months pregnant at the time of the evaluation, had been living with her husband and daughter in a small apartment.
About 2 months before the death of her daughter, the parents were investigated by the county protection agency for possible child abuse or neglect after a neighbor had reported to the authorities that their apartment was a shambles and that the child appeared to be neglected. The neighbors reported that the couple kept the child in a small room in the apartment along with cages for the parents' four rabbits, which were allowed to run free around the room most of the time. The parents also kept two Russian wolfhounds in their living room. The family periodically volunteered to take care of animals for the animal recovery shelter, and on two previous occasions the animals died mysterious deaths while in the family's care. Although the house was found to be in shambles, the child protection worker did not believe that the child was endangered and recommended that the parents retain custody. The family apparently lived a very chaotic life. Della and her husband drank heavily almost every day and argued almost constantly. The day that their daughter died, the couple had been drinking and arguing loudly enough for the neighbors to hear. Della reported her daughter's death through a 911 call indicating that the child had apparently suffocated when she became trapped between her bed and the wall. After a police investigation, however, both parents were charged with homicide because of the extensive bruises on the child's body. During the pretrial investigation (and after Della's second child was born), her husband confessed to killing his daughter to allow his wife to go free. He was sentenced to 18 years in prison. Although there was much evidence to indicate Della's complicity in the killing, she was released from custody after serving a 5-month sentence for conspiracy and rendering false statements.
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