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Personality Theories: An Introduction , Seventh Edition
Barbara Engler, Union County College
Chapter 10: Traits and Personology: Gordon Allport, Henry Murray

TAT and Personality Assessment

Along with Christiana Morgan, Henry Murray developed the Thematic Apperception Test (TAT) as a personality assessment tool. More specifically, the Murray and Morgan created the TAT to assess "need" and "press," which are strongly emphasized in Murray's theory of personality.

TAT and Personality Assessment

Along with Christiana Morgan, Henry Murray developed the Thematic Apperception Test (TAT) as a personality assessment tool. More specifically, the Murray and Morgan created the TAT to assess "need" and "press," which are strongly emphasized in Murray's theory of personality. The TAT includes 30 cards, of which an assessor chooses a subset for a particular subject. The cards feature various ambiguous scenes, most involving interpersonal situations. The subject is asked to tell a story regarding the card, and the story may include an explanation of what is happening in the scene, what events preceded the scene, what events may follow the scene, and what the people in the scene are thinking or feeling. The assessor uses the themes emerging from the stories produced by the subject to infer personality characteristics about the subject.

The TAT is a projective personality test. Other projective tests include the Rorschach Inkblot Technique, which features ambiguous ink patterns and designs rather than scenes involving people, and the Children's Apperception Test, which is a more child-friendly alternative to the TAT. All projective tests share the same underlying hypothesis which is that an individual's perception and explanation of ambiguous stimuli reveals something important about the individual's personality. In other words, in our attempts to bring some definition to something indefinite or nebulous, we (perhaps unknowingly) project our own personality characteristics onto the stimulus. Projective tests contrast with objective personality tests, which are typically "pencil-and-paper" questionnaires in which an individual marks the extent to which a self-descriptive statement applies to him or her. The Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory-Second Edition (MMPI 2) and the NEO Personality Inventory-Revised (NEO-PI-R) are examples of objective personality tests. They typically involve a much more limited range of responding in that subjects typically mark items as true or false (or choose among multiple choice options) rather than responding freely as they would in response to a card from a projective test.

The validity and reliability of projective personality tests have received significant criticism in recent years. Indeed, the most commonly used objective personality tests typically demonstrate significantly stronger statistical measures of reliability and validity than the most commonly used projective personality tests. Thus, there is some question about whether projective personality tests such as the TAT produce replicable results, or in fact measure that which they intend to measure. If your personality was to be assessed professionally, to what extent do you feel that either projective or objective personality tests would be appropriate and accurate measures?

The role of cultural variables has also received significant attention in the context of the TAT. Specifically, critics of the TAT have pointed out that the majority of the individuals in its cards appear to be of Caucasian ethnicity, and that the scenes in the test overrepresent the mainstream culture of America in the first half of the twentieth century (when the TAT was created). In addition to the appearance of the people in the scenes of the TAT cards, the culture of the individual taking the test may also influence its results, as culture can play an important role in the way individuals perceive or make sense of ambiguous situations. Finally, since the TAT is administered in a face-to-face format and the subject may be sensitive to the interpersonal interaction taking place during the assessment process, the perceived culture of the assessor administering the test can also influence the results.

Andrew M. Pomerantz, Ph. D.
Southern Illinois University Edwardsville

Critical Thinking Questions:
  1. Consider the sample TAT card included in the Chapter 10 of the textbook. How might responses to the card be influenced if the people in the scene appeared to be members of a different ethnic group?
  2. How might your answer to #1 above depend upon the ethnicity of the person taking the test?
  3. How might your answers to #1 and #2 above depend upon the perceived ethnicity of the person administering the test?
Web Links:
http://www.mhhe.com/mayfieldpub/psychtesting/profiles/murray.htm
A biography of Henry Murray, creator of the TAT.

http://web.utk.edu/~wmorgan/tat/tattxt.htm
A site detailing the history and editing of professional photographs used in the creation of TAT cards.

http://www.pearsonassessments.com/catalog/tat.pdf
A description of the TAT by its publisher, Pearson Assessments.




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