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J Am Acad Psychiatry Law. 2009;37(1):98-106.

Clinical and conceptual problems in the attribution of malingering in forensic evaluations.

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  • 1Core Faculty, Fielding Graduate University, Santa Barbara, CA, USA.


The authors review clinical and conceptual errors that contribute to false attributions of malingering in forensic evaluations. Unlike the mental disorders, malingering is not defined by a set of (relatively) enduring symptoms or traits; rather, it is an intentional, externally motivated, and context-specific form of behavior. Despite this general knowledge, attributions of malingering are often made by using assessment tools that may detect feigning but cannot be relied upon to determine incentive and volition or consciousness (defining characteristics of malingering). In addition, forensic evaluators may overlook the possibility that feigning is a function of true pathology, as in Ganser syndrome or the factitious disorders, or that a seemingly malingered presentation is due to symptoms of an underlying disorder, such as dissociative identity disorder (DID). Other factors that set the stage for false positives, such as pressure on forensic specialists to identify malingering at all costs, failure to consider the base rate problem, and cultural variables, are also reviewed.

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