Thematic Appreciation Test (TAT) of Personality by Henry Murry

Thematic Appreciation Test (TAT)

Thematic Appreciation Test (TAT) was developed at Harvard University by Henry Murry and his collaborator Morgan in 1935. The TAT is based on a principle developed by Freud in describing the influences of many unconscious processes. The term appreciation in TAT means a readiness to perceive in certain ways based on past experiences.

Thematic appreciation test assumes that people interpret ambiguous pictures according to their motives, preoccupations, defenses, conflicts, affection, fear, and a way of interpreting the world. It consists of ambiguous stimuli showing human figures of different ages and sex in a variety of activities.

TAT is more structured than RT. The TAT consists of 30 black and white pictures plus a blank card from which the subject has to make up stories. Some cards are used for boys under 14, others for girls under 14, for adult males, and for adult females. The usual administration involves 20 pictures for a given person. Usually, 10 pictures are presented with a short break or a full-day interval before the second set of 10 is administered.

In most test situations, all 20 cards are not presented in a single sitting. TAT is an individual test in which each card is presented one at a time to one individual. The 20 pictures of each set are given in serial order. The subject is asked to make up a story for each one, describing the scene to fit what is happening in the card and what the character is thinking and feeling, and to give the outcome. The client is handed over the cards and is requested to explain many features of the pictures. In particular, the subject has to explain the following.

  • The situation represented by the picture, a description of what is happening, an explanation about the scene in the picture, a discussion about the events which led up to it, and the situation that will grow from it.
  • A description of the thoughts, feelings, and emotions of the characters in the picture.
  • Finally, the subject has to tell what the outcome of the situation will be.
Thematic Appreciation Test picture

In the thematic appreciation test, usually, five minutes are allowed to each card, but the subject is encouraged to fully express their thoughts. There is no formal time limit imposed on a subject. The subject can explain the story either orally or in writing. While making up the stories, the clinician also records the behavior such as vocal changes, pauses, irrelevant noises, and facial expressions. The examiner can also use a tape recorder because this allows the clinician freely to notice gestures, flushing, nervousness, tension, and other signs of emotion. If the subject neglects some features of the story, he is questioned about them. In the clinical situation, TAT is usually thought of as a method used to penetrate into the deep unconscious. TAT interpretation gives psychologists the liberty to judge and identify in the subject’s personality significant themes, needs felt, and emotional attitudes toward parents and others.

Thematic Appreciation Test has been used to measure achievement motivation and to make predictions of future achievements related to behavior. According to Murry, TAT picture responses can be analyzed into five important events:

  • The Hero – important traits of the main character.
  • The Need – motives, and interests of the main character.
  • The Press – the forces and strength of the environment.
  • The Theme – the action and the reaction between the hero’s environment and his forces.
  • The Outcome – the concluding situation or end of the story.

The Rorschach test and thematic appreciation test both have their merits and demerits. The responses are hard to interpret without knowing background information about the examinee’s life history, and the interpretation depends upon the psychologist’s subjective interpretations. Application of RT or TAT is very time-consuming and expensive at the same time. The success of both RT and TAT methods depends upon the psychologist’s experience and the system of analysis. Validity differs as each psychologist can have different interpretations. However, they help to provide a richer understanding of the person and undoubtedly prove to be of great psychological importance.

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