Thematic Apperception Test





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Definition

The Thematic Apperception Test is a projective personality test.

Purpose

The Thematic Apperception Test (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. 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, for example).

Description

The TAT is a projective personality test that was designed at Harvard University in the 1930s by Christiana D. Morgan and Henry A. Murray. Along with the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) and the Rorschach inkblot test, 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 to the examiner about each picture. Of the 31 pictures, ten are gender-specific while 21 others can be used with adults of either sex and with children.

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 ten of the 31 cards at each of two sessions. The sessions are not timed, but average about an hour in length.

Precautions

The TAT has been criticized for its lack of a standardized method of administration as well as a 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; therefore, they may limit the range of personality characteristics that the test can assess.

Preparation

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.

Risks

The chief risks involved in taking the TAT are a bad "fit" between the examiner and the test subject and misuse of the results.

Parental concerns

The TAT does not yield a score, so its results can be difficult to interpret. It is important for parents to remember that the results of a single personality test may not accurately reflect their child's skills, talents, or problems and that there should not be too much emphasis placed upon the results of a single test.

Resources

BOOKS

Aronow, Edward, Weiss, Kim Altham, and Marvin Reznikoff. A Practical Guide to the Thematic Apperception Test: the T.A.T. in Clinical Practice. Philadelphia, PA: Brunner-Routledge, 2001.

Cohen, Ronald, et al. Psychological Testing and Assessment: An Introduction to Tests and Measurements. New York: McGraw-Hill Companies, 2004.

Rocchio, Joseph D. Your Child and Tests: What Every Parent Should Know about Educational and Psychological Testing. Solon, OH: Rocklin Publications, 2002.

PERIODICALS

Karon, Bertram P. "The Clinical Interpretation of the Thematic Apperception Test, Rorschach, and Other Clinical Data: A Reexamination of Statistical versus Clinical Prediction." Professional Psychology, Research, and Practice 31 (April 2000): 230–34.

Lilienfeld, Scott O., James M. Wood, and Howard N. Garb. "The Scientific Status of Projective Techniques." Psychological Science 11 (November 2000): 27.

Tuerlinck, Francis, Paul De Boeck, and Willy Lens. "Measuring Needs with the Thematic Apperception Test: A Psychometric Study." Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 82 (March 2002): 448–62.

ORGANIZATIONS

American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. 3615 Wisconsin Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20016–3007. Web site: http://www.aacap.org.

Helen Davidson Rebecca J. Frey, PhD

KEY TERMS

Projective personality test —A personality test in which the participant interprets ambiguous images, objects, stories.

Rorschach —A projective test in which the participant is asked to interpret inkblots.

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