How to Fake ADHD

Let’s say you’re a college student and you want to fake having attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder in order to get a prescription. You Google the symptoms, take a few notes, then ask to be tested. What are your odds of fooling everyone and getting the meds?

Pretty good, actually. A study published in the journal Psychological Assessment tested students who actually had ADHD (but weren’t on their medication) and students who had been asked by the researchers to pretend that they had the disorder. It turns out, self-report checklists for ADHD were of “no value” in ferreting out the feigners. Even someone with a cursory knowledge of the disorder could simulate the symptoms.

So-called symptom validity tests were more helpful and did a decent job of separating the fakers from the sufferers. But they also, in some cases, misidentified students who actually had ADHD as fakers. This is a problem, the authors write, because “it is better to miss some who are feigning than to mislabel true clinical cases as feigning.”

What to do then? The researchers suggest tweaking the more accurate tests to increase their sensitivity to faking. They also suggest looking carefully at a student’s history to see if current test results line up with past performance. But there aren’t any clear answers yet. Report the authors, gloomily: “The identification of students who feign impairment on ADHD evaluations within the university setting will likely remain a vexing problem.”

(Here’s the abstract for the study, “Detection of Feigned ADHD in College Students.” The authors are Myriam J. Sollman, John D. Ranseen, and David T. R. Berry.)

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