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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 31 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 31 cards are meant to be divided into two "series" of ten 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 black card) have been found suitable for both sexes, by portraying no human figures, an individual of each sex, or an individual of ambiguous gender.
Each story created by a subject is carefully analyzed to uncover underlying needs, attitudes, and patterns of reaction. 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.
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.
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to the Freudian principle of repression on which the test is based has caused the TAT to be criticised as false or outdated by many professional psychologists.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).
Contemporary applications of TATEdit
Nevertheless, the TAT remains widely used as a tool for research around areas of pschology 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 in popular cultureEdit
- Thomas Harris' novel Red Dragon includes a scene where the brilliant fictional psychiatrist and serial killer Dr Hannibal Lecter is required to take a TAT test
- Book review of Storytelling, Narrative, and the Thematic Apperception Test
- Research into the origins of imagery used in the TATde:Thematischer Auffassungstest
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