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Thematic Apperception Test

Let's learn about Thematic Apperception Test or TAT which is conducted to better understand a person's psyche.
Tulika Nair
Thematic Apperception Test (TAT) uses the Freudian principle of repression as its basis, asserting that you can evaluate a person's need for power and achievement, his ambition, and his ability to solve problems by evoking his subconscious state and getting the subject to use his repressed emotions to express response to the test given to him.
The test is often used to assess individuals who apply for jobs in fields such as the military, law enforcement, education, bureaucracy, and other fields of national and international importance.


Two American psychologists, Henry A Murray and Christiana D. Morgan have developed the projective measure used to judge and analyze how a person thinks, his thought pattern, his attitude to different situations, his capacity and ability to observe situations and the manner in which the person responds to several test materials purposely equivocal in nature.
TAT was developed in the 1930s at Harvard. It was after the Second World War that the test was more widely used by psychoanalysts all over the country to help people who had been emotionally scarred by the war and its effects.
By the 1970s, the TAT became a world-wide tool, which people used to understand themselves and grow, regardless of whether or not they had suffered any emotional trauma. TAT is one of the most widely used projective tests of psychology in the world, along with Rorschach analysis.
TAT uses 31 cards with pictures. Each of these cards has images of human beings in different situations. These images are generally provocative without being straightforward or pointing in a specific direction. Out of the 31 pictures that are shown to the subject, ten are gender specific.
While initially the cards were designed in a way that the psychologists could pick ten cards depending on the age and gender of the subject undergoing the test, all the cards, being equivocal in nature, can be used for any subject. Though using cards specific to the subject may give better results.
The person who is shown the cards is required to develop a story about the picture shown. For proper interpretation, the subject or the person who is being shown the cards, needs to include the following features while telling the story.
  • What is being shown in the picture?
  • What are the events that led to the situation in the picture?
  • What are the characters present in the image thinking and feeling, and what do you think their reaction is going to be?
  • What do you think will be the outcome of the event?
These tests are considered to be an example of a projective measure, which is a psychological instrument that allows a psychoanalyst or a clinical psychologist to judge a person's capabilities and habits by projecting their thought process and emotional response onto the images they are shown on the basis of the patterns they follow.
Once they have all the information they need provided by the person taking the test, psychologists use the data to understand what the person wants, why he behaves in a certain way, and what are the issues that he is fighting emotionally, whether consciously or unconsciously.
While the universally used term for the test remains Thematic Apperception Test, most psychologists prefer to call it a technique, because they believe that a test refers to something that can be measured in right or wrong, which is untrue for TAT and other similar projective test approaches.
The test has been criticized by several professional psychologists due to the fact that it has been based on the Freudian principle of repression, according to which, many people let go of their wishes and fantasies in their conscious state, holding on to them in their subconscious state.
Like most Freudian principles, even this theory of repression has been held unscientific and unreliable by many in the psychological community. But despite the criticism, this test is widely used by people conducting interviews, and even people involved in research.
TAT is used widely in France, Argentina, Israel, and India, especially for recruitment in the defense field. It remains a widely used method for psychological and psychometric testing.