Predicting instructed simulation and dissimulation when screening for depressive symptoms

  • Stephan GoerigkEmail author
  • Sven Hilbert
  • Andrea Jobst
  • Peter Falkai
  • Markus Bühner
  • Clemens Stachl
  • Bernd Bischl
  • Stefan Coors
  • Thomas Ehring
  • Frank Padberg
  • Nina Sarubin
Original Paper


The intentional distortion of test results presents a fundamental problem to self-report-based psychiatric assessment, such as screening for depressive symptoms. The first objective of the study was to clarify whether depressed patients like healthy controls possess both the cognitive ability and motivation to deliberately influence results of commonly used screening measures. The second objective was the construction of a method derived directly from within the test takers’ responses to systematically detect faking behavior. Supervised machine learning algorithms posit the potential to empirically learn the implicit interconnections between responses, which shape detectable faking patterns. In a standardized design, faking bad and faking good were experimentally induced in a matched sample of 150 depressed and 150 healthy subjects. Participants completed commonly used questionnaires to detect depressive and associated symptoms. Group differences throughout experimental conditions were evaluated using linear mixed-models. Machine learning algorithms were trained on the test results and compared regarding their capacity to systematically predict distortions in response behavior in two scenarios: (1) differentiation of authentic patient responses from simulated responses of healthy participants; (2) differentiation of authentic patient responses from dissimulated patient responses. Statistically significant convergence of the test scores in both faking conditions suggests that both depressive patients and healthy controls have the cognitive ability as well as the motivational compliance to alter their test results. Evaluation of the algorithmic capability to detect faking behavior yielded ideal predictive accuracies of up to 89%. Implications of the findings, as well as future research objectives are discussed. Trial Registration The study was pre-registered at the German registry for clinical trials (Deutsches Register klinischer Studien, DRKS; DRKS00007708).


Depression Assessment Faking Machine learning Response patterns 



The authors would like to acknowledge the kind assistance of Sabrina Immisch and Karoline Ziener (Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, Ludwig-Maximilians-University, Munich, Germany).

Author contributions

All authors have made substantive intellectual contributions to the submitted work in form of conception of the study, and/or acquisition of data, and/or analysis and interpretation of data, and/or drafting or revising the article. NS, SH, SG, FP and AJ participated in acquisition of data and manuscript drafting; TE, PF, CS and MB participated in manuscript editing and interpretation of data; FP and NS were responsible for the concept and conduction of the study; SG, SH, BB, SC and MB were responsible for the integrity of the data and the accuracy of the data analysis; all authors approved the final version of the manuscript and take public responsibility for its content.


This study was funded by the Dr.-Karl-Wilder-Foundation (German Insurance Association, GDV, Germany). The sponsors had no role in study design; in the collection, analysis and interpretation of data; in the writing of the report; and in the decision to submit the paper for publication.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

All authors reported no direct or indirect financial or personal relationships, interests and affiliations relevant to the subject matter of the manuscript that have occurred over the last 3 years, or that are expected in the foreseeable future.

Supplementary material

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Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 74 KB)
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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Stephan Goerigk
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
    Email author return OK on get
  • Sven Hilbert
    • 1
    • 4
  • Andrea Jobst
    • 2
  • Peter Falkai
    • 2
  • Markus Bühner
    • 1
  • Clemens Stachl
    • 1
  • Bernd Bischl
    • 5
  • Stefan Coors
    • 5
  • Thomas Ehring
    • 6
  • Frank Padberg
    • 2
  • Nina Sarubin
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Psychological Methodology and AssessmentLudwig-Maximilians-University MunichMunichGermany
  2. 2.Department of Psychiatry and PsychotherapyLudwig-Maximilians-UniversityMunichGermany
  3. 3.Hochschule FreseniusUniversity of Applied SciencesMunichGermany
  4. 4.Faculty of Psychology, Educational Science and Sport ScienceUniversity of RegensburgRegensburgGermany
  5. 5.Department of StatisticsLudwig-Maximilians-UniversityMunichGermany
  6. 6.Department of Clinical Psychology and PsychotherapyLudwig-Maximilians-UniversityMunichGermany

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