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Social Processes: Methodology · Types of test

The Thematic Apperception Test' or TAT is a projective personality measure. Historically, the Thematic Apperception Test or TAT has been amongst the most widely used, researched, and taught projective psychological tests. Its adherents claim that it taps a subject's unconscious to reveal repressed aspects of personality, motives and needs for achievement, power and intimacy, and problem-solving abilities.


The TAT is popularly known as the picture interpretation technique because it uses a standard series of 30 provocative yet ambiguous pictures about which the subject must tell a story. In the case of adults and adolescents of average intelligence, a subject is asked to tell as dramatic a story as they can for each picture, including:

  • what has led up to the event shown
  • what is happening at the moment
  • what the characters are feeling and thinking, and
  • what the outcome of the story was.

For children or individuals of limited cognitive abilities, instructions ask that the subject tell a story including what happened before and what is happening now, what the people are feeling and thinking and how it will come out.

The 30 cards are meant to be divided into two "series" of 15 pictures each, with the pictures of the second series being purposely more unusual, dramatic, and bizarre than those of the first. Suggested administration involves one full hour being devoted to a series, with the two sessions being separated by a day or more.

Several cards in the test are present in order to ensure that the subject is able to be provided with cards picturing individuals of the same gender. Eleven cards (including the blank card) have been found suitable for both sexes, by portraying no human figures, an individual of each sex, or an individual of ambiguous gender.

Scoring SystemsEdit

The TAT is a projective test in that, like the Rorschach test, its assessment of the subject is based on what he or she projects onto the ambiguous images. Therefore, to complete the assessment each story created by a subject must be carefully analyzed to uncover underlying needs, attitudes, and patterns of reaction. Several formal scoring systems have been developed for analyzing TAT stories systemmatically and consistently. Two common methods that are currently used in research are the:

  • Social Cognition and Object Relations SCOR[2] scale. This assesses four different dimensions of object relations: Complexity of Representations of People, Affect-Tone of Relationship Paradigms, Capacity for Emotional Investment in Relationships and Moral Standards, and Understanding of Social Causality.


TAT was developed by the American psychologists Henry A. Murray and Christiana D. Morgan at Harvard during the 1930s to explore the underlying dynamics of personality, such as internal conflicts, dominant drives, interests, and motives.

After World War II, the TAT was adopted more broadly by psychoanalysts and clinicians to evaluate emotionally disturbed patients.

Later, in the 1970s, the Human Potential Movement encouraged psychologists to use the TAT to help their clients understand themselves better and stimulate personal growth.


Declining adherence to the Freudian principle of repression on which the test is based has caused the TAT to be criticised as false or outdated by many professional psychologists. Their criticisms are that the TAT is unscientific because it cannot be proved to be valid (ie that it actually measures what it claims to measure), or reliable, (ie that gives consistent results over time, due to the challenge of standardising interpretations of the stories produced by subjects). Some critics of the TAT cards have observed that the characters and environments are dated, even ‘old-fashioned,’ creating a ‘cultural or psychosocial distance’ between the patients and these stimuli that makes identifying with them less likely [3]. Also, in researching the responses of subjects given photographs versus the TAT, researchers found that the TAT cards evoked more ‘deviant’ stories (i.e., more negative) than photographs, leading them to conclude that the difference was due to the differences in the characteristics of the images used as stimuli. In a 2005 dissertation Matthew Narron, Psy.D.[4] attempted to address these issues by reproducing a Bellak 10 card set photographically and performing an outcome study. The results concluded that the old TAT elicited answers that included many more specific time references than the new TAT.

Contemporary applications of TATEdit

Nevertheless, the TAT remains widely used as a tool for research around areas of psychology such as dreams, fantasies, mate selection and what motivates people to choose their occupation. Sometimes it is used in a psychiatric context to assess disordered thinking, in forensic examinations to evaluate crime suspects, or to screen candidates for high-stress occupations.

TAT is widely used in France and Argentina following the "French School" concepts.

There is also a British and a Roman School.

Israeli army uses the test for evaluating potential officers.

It is also used by Service Selection Board, India

See alsoEdit

Related topicsEdit


  1. Cramer, P (1991). The Development of Defense Mechanisms: Theory, Research, and Assessment, New York: Springer-Verlag.
  2. Westen, Drew. Clinical Assessment of Object Relations Using the TAT, Journal of Personality Assessment, Volume 56, Issue 1 February 1991 , pages 56 - 74.
  3. Holmstrom, R.W., Silber, D.E., & Karp, S.A. (1990). Development of the Apperceptive Personality Test. Journal of Personality Assessment, 54 (1 & 2), 252-264.
  4. Narron, M. C. (2005). Updating the TAT: A Photographic Revision of the Thematic Apperception Test, Dissertations Abstract International, DAI-B 66/01, p. 568, Jul 2005

External linksEdit

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