What is the Thematic Apperception Test?

The Thematic Apperception Test (TAT) is a psychological test used to evaluate personality. It is an instrument to assess an individual’s attitudes, motivations, thought patterns, emotional responses and observational capacity. The Thematic Apperception Test consists of a set of 31 picture cards that portray humans in various situations and settings. Individuals taking the Thematic Apperception Test are shown a selected series of the cards and asked to make up a dramatic story about each one. This test is given by professional psychologists who are specially trained in its administration and interpretation.
Although the Thematic Apperception Test is untimed, it usually is given in two sessions of about an hour’s length each. A person taking the test is placed in a room where there will be no interruptions. Each session, he or she is shown 10-14 cards that have been selected from the standard card set of 31. The psychologist has the cards in a stack face-down and gives them one at a time to the person taking the test. As each story is finished, the person places the card in another stack face-down in front of him or her.
At the beginning of the Thematic Apperception Test, instructions are given to tell a story about the picture on each card but the story must include some specific elements for the purposes of the test; if one of the elements is omitted, the psychologist will ask about it. Subjects must give the psychologist an overall description of the event taking place in the picture as well as tell what developments led up to the event pictured. The story also must include what thoughts and feelings the people in the pictures are having and what the ultimate outcome of the story is.
When the Thematic Apperception Test was first developed in the 1930s, the 31 cards were divided into three categories. One card category was for use only with women, one only for men and one for use with both sexes. Over time, decisions were made by psychologists to eliminate these categories and use the same 31 cards for both sexes.
Following the test, the psychologist evaluates not only the story content but how the individual told the story. A psychologist will use such things as the individual’s posture, hesitations and vocal tone in relating the story to interpret the test. This test is used not only in clinical psychological or psychiatric settings but also to evaluate individuals who are candidates for employment in fields with a high level of stress such as law enforcement, the military and education.

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