All About the Thematic Apperception Test (TAT)

The thematic apperception test allows you to analyze a subject's personality by avoiding the inhibitions produced by other more objective evaluation methods. In this article, we talk about the main keys for its interpretation and administration.
All About the Thematic Apperception Test (TAT)

Last update: 05 June, 2020

Analyzing personality is one of the most fascinating and complex challenges in psychology. In order to accomplish this objective, psychologists and researchers created different evaluation instruments, all inspired by different schools. In this article, we’ll be talking about the thematic apperception test (TAT), which has very interesting advantages.

This test provides an in-depth exploration of an individual’s personality and attitudes in several areas. In addition, it does so in a subjective way, as it’s based on projections. In other words, the person isn’t aware of what the psychologist is evaluating. Therefore, their defensive barriers aren’t that aggressive.

Projective tests

The thematic apperception test is one of the few projective techniques we can find in psychology. The aim of projective techniques is to analyze an individual’s personality from their unconscious projections. To achieve this, the evaluator presents the subject with ambiguous pictures and asks them to perform a creative task based on it; it could be a drawing, a narration, an association, etc.

In this regard, the thematic projective test consists of a series of sheets with ambiguous drawings. The patient is asked to describe what they see in them. The Rorschach test is one of the top representatives of this type of technique and, without a doubt, one of the best-known.

The main advantage of this type of test is that the person isn’t aware of what the psychologist is evaluating. That way, it’s easier to avoid the barriers and reluctance that may arise when answering other types of clearer instruments. Basically, this test encourages the individual to express their true personality and unconscious conflicts in a free and uninhibited way.

“The unconscious mind of man sees correctly even when conscious reason is blind and impotent.”

-Carl Gustav Jung-

A woman talking to her psychologist.

The thematic apperception test (TAT)

This evaluation instrument consists of 31 sheets with black and white images that represent different scenarios. Some of them are common, while others are specifically indicated according to the subject’s sex and age. Each individual is presented with only 20 sheets, which are divided into two sessions.

After observing each image, the evaluator asks the subject to tell a story with a past, present, and future. When they do it, they must emphasize what each character in the picture feels and thinks.

Through this exercise, it’s possible to perform a formal analysis based on the coherence, language, and interpretive style the person uses. But, above all, the psychologist analyzes the content, which will provide a lot of information about personality and latent conflicts.

Keys for interpretation

Each sheet is designed to explore different relevant areas. Nonetheless, there are some basic keys to keep in mind. In each image, it’s important to identify the figure of the “hero”. This refers to the character the subject identifies with. The actions and emotions assigned to the hero during the narration give information about the profound needs of the subject.

On the other hand, the actions and emotions of the rest of the characters are a projection of how the subject perceives their environment. What they want and what they fear will happen, as well as the unconscious impulses they have and refuse to recognize.

Some of the topics evaluated in the pictures are the following:

  • Goals and personal aspirations, difficulties, and hopes.
  • Aggression, punishment, guilt, and depressive behaviors.
  • Sexual identity, inclination, and relationships.
  • Attitude towards maternal and paternal figures and their relationship with them.
  • Relationship with authority, rivalries, and passivity.
  • Self-image, feelings of loneliness and abandonment, and reflections on the future.
A psychologist doing the thematic apperception test with her patient.

How useful is the thematic apperception test?

In brief, this instrument provides a lot of information about an individual’s personality. Through their narratives, therapists can elucidate their self-perception, their relationship with their environment, and the existence of latent conflicts.

However, the interpretation of this test is incredibly subjective. Therefore, professionals should only use it as a complement. Other instruments must always contrast the data obtained from the thematic apperception test.

“Psychology is action, not thinking about oneself. We continue to shape our personality all our life. To know oneself, one should assert oneself.”

-Albert Camus-

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.