Malingering Disorder: Definition & Diagnosis

Instructor: Vidhi Desai

Vidhi holds a Masters in Education, B.A. in Spanish Literature from Rutgers University. Vidhi has experience working in academic affairs and staff management.

Malingering disorder can be a difficult condition to diagnose despite the efforts of sufferers to make their symptoms obvious. Investigate the definition of malingering disorder, the diagnostic process involved, factors indicating malingering disorder, its causes, and how professionals treat the disorder. Updated: 02/06/2022

What Is Malingering Disorder?

Malingering disorder is inventing or exaggerating physical or mental symptoms to gain a benefit. Those with malingering disorder want to make sure that their issue is noticeable to others.


While it can be difficult to tell if people are lying about the pain or discomfort they are experiencing, trained professionals are often able to diagnose malingering disorder. Some factors they look at are:

  1. Lack of cooperation by the patient
  2. Previous diagnosis of antisocial personality disorder - people with antisocial personality disorder generally don't care about the rights or feelings of others and are aggressive
  3. Referrals by courts or lawyers to get checked out
  4. Distinction between observable pain and claimed pain - for this one, professionals use objective measures such as psychiatric tests, polygraph tests (lie detector tests), or performance tests

Issues with Diagnosis

While researchers are getting closer to finding more objective ways to detect malingering disorder, at this point, there is no surefire way to detect it. Even when delivered by trained professionals, the diagnoses are prone to human error. Therefore, it is possible to diagnose someone with the disorder even if they don't have it. There is a portion of the population who are misdiagnosed with it. They may either A) not suffer from the disorder or B) truly suffer from the pain they claim.

Some people suffer from factitious disorder, which resembles malingering disorder but is not the same. The main cause of factitious disorder is the opportunity for the person to be in the role of a patient. For people with factitious disorder, the goal is not necessarily anything other than being a patient. Factitious disorder can also be misdiagnosed - patients can have other disorders, such as malingering disorder, or may not be feigning sickness at all.

Causes of Malingering

The only known cause of malingering disorder separate from other illnesses is a desire to benefit from lying or exaggerating. These benefits include a relief from responsibility, attention or sympathy from others, and financial gain. If accompanied by antisocial personality disorder, that may be the cause.


While there is no direct treatment of malingering disorder, a doctor may recommend testing. The malingerer may ease off of complaining or, on the other hand, the testing or hospital stay might reinforce the behavior.

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