Malingering is the fabrication, feigning, or exaggeration of physical or psychological symptoms designed to achieve a desired outcome such as relief from duty or work; mitigating punishment; obtaining desired medications; or receiving unmerited recompense such as disability compensation or personal injury damages award. Malingering can also be the intentional misattribution of actual symptoms to another cause, for example, claiming that an event during military service caused current depressive symptoms when the actual cause is marital strife and excessive alcohol use.[1][2]

SpecialtyPsychiatry, Clinical psychology

Malingering is not a medical diagnosis, but may be recorded as a "focus of clinical attention" or a "reason for contact with health services".[3][2] Malingering is categorized as distinct from other forms of excessive illness behavior[4] such as somatization disorder and factitious disorder, although not all mental health professionals agree with this formulation.[5]

Failure to detect actual cases of malingering imposes an economic burden on health care systems, workers' compensation programs, and disability programs, such as Social Security Disability Insurance and veterans' disability benefits. False accusations of malingering often harm genuine patients or claimants.[6][7]



According to 1 Samuel in the Hebrew Bible, King David feigned madness to Achish, king of the Philistines. Some scholars believe this was not feigned, but instead real epilepsy; phrasing in the Septuagint supports this position.[8]

Odysseus was said to have feigned insanity to avoid participating in the Trojan War.[9][10]

Malingering was recorded in Roman times by the physician Galen, who reported two cases: one patient simulated colic to avoid a public meeting, the other feigned an injured knee to avoid accompanying his master on a long journey.[11]


In 1595, a treatise on feigned diseases was published in Milan by Giambattista Silvatico.

Various phases of malingering (les gueux contrefaits) are represented in the etchings and engravings of Jacques Callot (1592–1635).[12]

In his Elizabethan-era social-climbing manual, George Puttenham recommends a would-be courtier have "sickness in his sleeve, thereby to shake off other importunities of greater consequence".[13]

Modern period

Lady Flora Hastings was accused of adultery following court gossip about her abdominal pain. She refused to be physically examined by a man for reasons of modesty, so the physician assumed she was pregnant. She later died of liver cancer.[14]

In 1943, US Army General George S. Patton found a soldier in a field hospital with no wounds; the soldier claimed to be suffering from battle fatigue. Believing the patient was malingering, Patton flew into a rage and physically assaulted him. The patient was suffering from malarial parasites.[15]

Agnes Torres was the first subject of an in-depth discussion of transgender identity in sociology, published by Harold Garfinkel in 1967. In the 1950s, Torres feigned symptoms and lied about almost every aspect of her medical history. Garfinkel concluded that, fearing she would be denied access to sexual reassignment surgery, she had avoided every aspect of her case which would have indicated gender dysphoria and hidden the fact that she had taken hormone therapy; physicians observing her feminine appearance therefore concluded she had testicular feminization syndrome, legitimizing her request for the surgery.[16]

Society and culture

Malingering is a court-martial offense in the United States military under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which defines the term as "feign[ing] illness, physical disablement, mental lapse, or derangement".[17]

According to the Texas Department of Insurance, fraud that includes malingering costs the US insurance industry approximately $150 billion each year.[6][18] Other non-industry sources report it may be as low as $5.4 billion, suggesting that insurance companies are over-inflating the problem to divert more law enforcement towards health insurance fraud.[19]

See also


  1. "malingering". Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine. 2008. Retrieved November 5, 2019 via The Free Dictionary.
  2. "QC30 Malingering". International Classification of Diseases (11th ed.). World Health Organization. April 2019. Retrieved November 5, 2019.
  3. Bienenfield, David (April 15, 2015). "Malingering". Medscape. WebMD LLC. Archived from the original on December 30, 2016. Retrieved December 30, 2016. In the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), malingering receives a V code as one of the other conditions that may be a focus of clinical attention.
  4. Hamilton, James C.; Hedge, Krystal A.; Feldman, Marc D. "Chapter 37: Excessive Illness Behavior". In Fogel, Barry S.; Greenberg, Donna B. (eds.). Psychiatric Care of the Medical Patient (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. pp. 743–755. doi:10.1093/med/9780199731855.003.0037. ISBN 9780199731855. OCLC 947145299.
  5. Hamilton, James C.; Feldman, Marc D.; Cunnien, Alan J. (2008). "Chapter 8: Factitious Disorder in Medical and Psychiatric Practices". In Rogers, Richard (ed.). Clinical Assessment of Malingering and Deception (3rd ed.). New York City, NY: Guilford. pp. 128–144. ISBN 9781593856991. OCLC 175174373.
  6. Garriga, Michelle (March 2007). "Malingering in the Clinical Setting". Psychiatric Times. 24 (3). Archived from the original on November 19, 2009.
  7. Shapiro, Allan P.; Teasell, Robert W. (March 1998). "Misdiagnosis of chronic pain as hysteria and malingering". Current Pain and Headache Reports. 2 (1): 19–28. doi:10.1007/s11916-998-0059-5.
  8. McClintock, John; Strong, James, eds. (1894). "Madness". Cyclopaedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. 5. Harper & Brothers. pp. 628b–629a.
  9. Apollodorus (1921) [c. 100–200 CE]. "E3.7". Epitome. Loeb Classical Library. Translated by Frazer, James George. Harvard University Press, W. Heinemann. ISBN 0-674-99136-2.
  10. Hyginus (1960) [c. 40 BCE–15 CE]. "95". Fabulae (The Myths of Hyginus). Translated by Grant, Mary. Lawrence, KS: University of Kansas Press. Archived from the original on February 9, 2013 via Theoi Project.
  11. Lund, Fred Bates (1941). "Galen on Malingering, Centaurs, Diabetes, and Other Subjects More or Less Related". Proceedings of the Charaka Club. New York: Columbia University Press. 10: 52–55.
  12. Garrison, Fielding H. (1921). History of Medicine (3rd ed.). W. B. Saunders. pp. 201, 312 via Internet Archive.
  13. Puttenham, George (2007) [1589]. Wigham, Frank; Rebhorn, Wayne A. (eds.). The Art of English Posey: A Critical Edition. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. pp. 379–380. ISBN 978-1501707414.
  14. Longford, Elizabeth (1964). Victoria R.I.. Weidenfeld and Nicolson. ISBN 978-0297766353.
  15. Axelrod, Alan (2006). Patton: A Biography. London: Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 115–116. ISBN 978-1-4039-7139-5.
  16. Garfinkel, Harold (1967). "Passing and the Managed Achievement of Sex Status in an Intersex Person, Part 1". Studies in Ethnomethodology. Blackwell Publishing. pp. 116–185. ISBN 978-0745600055.
  17. 10 U.S.C. § 883: Article 83. Malingering
  18. Dinsmoor, Robert Scott (2011). "Malingering". In Fundukian, Laurie J. (ed.). The Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine. 4 (4th ed.). Gale. pp. 2737–2739. ISBN 978-1-4144-8646-8.
  19. Brennan, Adrianne M.; Meyer, Stephen; David, Emily; Pella, Russell; Hill, Ben D.; Gouvier, William Drew (February 2009). "The vulnerability to coaching across measures of effort". The Clinical Neuropsychologist. 23 (2): 314–328. doi:10.1080/13854040802054151. PMID 18609324. Archived from the original on December 29, 2016. Retrieved December 29, 2016 via ResearchGate. Malingering accounts for nearly one-fifth of all medical care cases (i.e., doctor visits, hospitalizations) within the United States and combined medical and legal costs approach five billion dollars annually (Ford, 1983; Gouvier, Lees-Haley, & Hammer, 2003).
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