Thematic Apperception Test
The thematic apperception test (TAT) is a projective personality test that was designed at Harvard in the 1930s by Christiana D. Morgan and Henry A. Murray. Along with the MMPI and the Rorschach, the TAT is one of the most widely used psychological tests. A projective test is one in which a person's patterns of thought, attitudes, observational capacity, and emotional responses are evaluated on the basis of responses to ambiguous test materials. The TAT consists of 31 pictures that depict a variety of social and interpersonal situations. The subject is asked to tell a story about each picture to the examiner. Of the 31 pictures, 10 are gender-specific while 21 others can be used with adults of either sex and with children. As of 2001, the TAT is distributed by Harcourt Brace Educational Measurement.
The original purpose of the TAT was to reveal the underlying dynamics of the subject's personality, such as internal conflicts, dominant drives and interests, motives, etc. The specific motives that the TAT assesses include the need for achievement, need for power, the need for intimacy, and problem-solving abilities. After World War II, however, the TAT was used by psychoanalysts and clinicians from other schools of thought to evaluate emotionally disturbed patients. Another shift took place in the 1970s, when the influence of the human potential movement led many psychologists to emphasize the usefulness of the TAT in assessment services—that is, using the test to help clients understand themselves better and stimulate their personal growth.
The TAT is widely used to research certain topics in psychology, such as dreams and fantasies, mate selection, the factors that motivate people's choice of occupations, and similar subjects. It is sometimes used in psychiatric evaluations to assess disordered thinking and in forensic examinations to evaluate crime suspects, even though it is not a diagnostic test. As mentioned earlier, the TAT can be used to help people understand their own personality in greater depth and build on that knowledge in making important life decisions. Lastly, it is sometimes used as a screener in psychological evaluations of candidates for high-stress occupations (law enforcement, the military, religious ministry, etc.).
The TAT has been criticized for its lack of a standardized method of administration as well as the lack of standard norms for interpretation. Studies of the interactions between examiners and test subjects have found that the race, sex, and social class of both participants influence both the stories that are told and the way the stories are interpreted by the examiner. Attempts have been made to design sets of TAT cards for African American and for elderly test subjects, but the results have not been encouraging. In addition, the 31 standard pictures have been criticized for being too gloomy or depressing,
There is no standardized procedure or set of cards for administering the TAT, except that it is a one-on-one test. It cannot be administered to groups. In one common method of administration, the examiner shows the subject only 10 of the 31 cards at each of two sessions. The sessions are not timed, but average about an hour in length.
There is no specific preparation necessary before taking the TAT, although most examiners prefer to schedule sessions (if there is more than one) over two days.
The chief risks involved in taking the TAT are a bad "fit" between the examiner and the test subject, and misuse of the results.
Since the TAT is used primarily for personality assessment rather than diagnosis of mental disorders, it does not yield a "score" in the usual sense.
Arbisi, Paul A. "The Senior Apperception Technique." In The Thirteenth Mental Measurements Yearbook,ed. J. C. Impara and B. S. Plake (Lincoln, NE: The Buros Institute of Mental Measurements, The University of Nebraska-Lincoln, 1998).
Dana, Richard H. "Thematic Apperception Test." In International Encyclopedia of Psychiatry, Psychology, Psychoanalysis, & Neurology, vol. 11, ed. Benjamin B. Wolman. New York: Aesculapius Publishers, Inc., 1977.
Geiser, Lon, and Morris I. Stein. Evocative Images: The Thematic Apperception Test and the Art of Projection. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 1999.
Sweetland, R. C., PhD, and D. J. Keyser, PhD, eds. Tests: A Comprehensive Reference for Assessments in Psychology, Education, and Business, 2nd edition. Kansas City, KS: Test Corporation of America, 1986.
American Psychological Association. 750 First Street, NE, Washington, DC 20002. (800) 374-2721. <http://www.apa.org>.
Rebecca J. Frey, PhD
Apperception—The process of understanding through linkage with previous experience.
Human potential movement—A movement in psychotherapy that began in the 1960s and emphasized maximizing the potential of each participant through such techniques as group therapy and sensitivity training.
Projective test—A type of psychological test that assesses a person's thinking patterns, observational ability, feelings, and attitudes on the basis of responses to ambiguous test materials. It is not intended to diagnose psychiatric disorders.