Thematic Apperception Test

Thematic Apperception Test (TAT) is a projective psychological test. Proponents of the technique assert that subjects’ responses, in the narratives they make up about ambiguous pictures of people, reveal their underlying motives, concerns, and the way they see the social world. Historically, the test has been among the most widely researched, taught, and used of such techniques

The TAT is popularly known as the picture interpretation technique because it uses a series of provocative yet ambiguous pictures about which the subject is asked to tell a story. The TAT manual provides the administration instructions used by Murray, although these procedures are commonly altered. The subject is asked to tell as dramatic a story as they can for each picture presented, including the following:

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

If these elements are omitted, particularly for children or individuals of low cognitive abilities, the evaluator may ask the subject about them directly. Otherwise, the examiner is to avoid interjecting and should not answer questions about the content of the pictures. The examiner records stories verbatim for later interpretation.

The complete version of the test contains 32 picture cards. Some of the cards show male figures, some female, some both male and female figures, some of ambiguous gender, some adults, some children, and some show no human figures at all. One card is completely blank and is used to elicit both a scene and a story about the given scene from the storyteller. Although the cards were originally designed to be matched to the subject in terms of age and gender, any card may be used with any subject. Murray hypothesized that stories would yield better information about a client if the majority of cards administered featured a character similar in age and gender to the client.

Although Murray recommended using 20 cards, most practitioners choose a set of between 8 and 12 selected cards, either using cards that they feel are generally useful, or that they believe will encourage the subject’s expression of emotional conflicts relevant to their specific history and situation. However, the examiner should aim to select a variety of cards in order to get a more global perspective of the storyteller and to avoid confirmation bias (i.e., finding only what you are looking for).

Many of the TAT drawings consist of sets of themes such as: success and failure, competition and jealousy, feeling about relationships, aggression, and sexuality. These are usually depicted through picture cards.

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