Thematic Perception Test (TAT): characteristics and operation

Each of us has our own way of seeing reality, interpreting, acting and being in the world. Each of us has our own personality. Partly inherited and widely learned, an individual’s personality allows us to know and even predict to some extent how to interact and react to an individual’s situations. And this can be very relevant when it comes to exploring why different people react differently to the same situation or for someone to continually exhibit behaviors that cause them discomfort or that they find unsuitable. This is why different mechanisms and tests have been developed in an attempt to assess personality.

One of the many tests existing in this regard, of psychodynamic orientation and framed in projective tests, is the Thematic Perception Test or TAT.

    The Thematic Perception Test or TAT

    Created by Murray in 1935, the TAT is intended to be a system for assessing the unconscious needs, expectations and fears that regulate our behavior and which help to shape our personality from the interpretation of ambiguous stimuli (considering the author that in this process the presence of personality traits can be observed).

    It is a test or projective type test, the TAT being known among them as the clearest and best known exponent of the thematic projective test (In which a story is essentially to be told from the presentation of one or more slides). As a projective test of psychodynamic origin, it aims to analyze the unconscious elements of the subject which form and shape to a large extent his personality.

    This evaluation has the advantage of being masked, which implies that the subject does not know what is being evaluated or what answer can be expected from him and it is more difficult to falsify his answers (decreasing the probability of giving answers by function of social desirability). however, it does not allow a quantitative analysis but only a qualitative analysis, To be able to different professionals to draw different conclusions from their application and not to make sense of a single isolated stimulus but its interpretation requires a global analysis.

    This projective test consists of a total of 31 black and white plates, all but one of which represent different structured but ambiguous scenes linked to different themes. Among them, eleven are universal while the others are distributed according to the type of population studied (according to sex and age) so that each subject can visualize a maximum of twenty. However, it is not necessary to pass all of them, but the clinician will assess whether it is useful to pass only the most relevant depending on the patient in question.

    The subject should briefly observe each sheet in order to draw a story from it and the elements that are part of the scene, first considering what he sees in the image or scene, then making a short story about it. what’s going on in it, what happened before and what will happen after. It will be the interpretation of these stories that will allow us to get an idea of ​​the psychic processes of the analyzed subject.


      The results of the TAT do not have a single possible interpretation, Not to be a standardized test reflecting specific scores. Its evaluation requires high doses of intuition and clinical judgment, the information extracted being qualitative in nature. It does not allow a diagnosis to be made, but it observes how the patient sees things and how they structure them.

      Although there are different systems for classifying and interpreting results, these depend to a large extent on the objectives of the patient’s personality analysis. For example, the Handbook of Defense Mechanisms proposes to evaluate the existence of denial, projection and identification as defense mechanisms against psychic conflicts, which would be projected in the stories. Regardless of the method of interpretation, in almost all cases two main factors are taken into account: on the one hand the content of the narration and on the other hand the way in which the story is structured or formed.


      When evaluating the content of the story, the creator of the test himself considered that six main aspects should be taken into account.

      The hero or protagonist of the story is one of these elements. In these plates with more than one character, it is the subject with which the patient identifies and on which the story focuses. This is usually the one that most closely resembles the patient himself. It should be noted that the plates themselves do not clearly mark the existence of a main individual, the subject choosing him. We also observe whether the patient chooses a single protagonist or whether the latter changes throughout the speech or whether he chooses a group, an animal or an object as such.

      It must also be valued the existence of different qualities in this protagonist and the role it plays in the story (it’s good / bad, active / passive, strong / weak …). The person with whom he identifies and how this character is informs us of the self-concept of the patient being analyzed.

      Another point to note, related to the above, is the hero’s motivation and needs. How he feels or what he wants or internally motivates him to act the way he does. Protect loved ones, hate or love, or whatever makes them feel events are part of that aspect. It is also associated with its own goals and objectives.

      The third key point is the pressures to which he is subjected, or what happens to the subject and which can mark his way of acting. Here it is possible to assess any concerns or stressful or traumatic situations that affect the patient’s life.

      The atmosphere is the fourth of the main aspects to be assessed. The patient must interpret not only the hero and what is happening to him, but also assess the situation in which he finds himself. The environment and the relationship with the other characters, or how these characters are or the roles they play (they are family, partner, friends, enemies, threats, simple witnesses …), are good examples. It can inform how to relate to the environment and the perception of it by the patient.

      The fifth of the elements to be valued is the development of the story itself. How events happen, how they start and how they end. This, moreover, may be related to the patient’s actual expectations regarding his own personal efficiency and mood.

      The last point of analysis, but not the least, is the theme of the story, that tend to be related to the patient’s concerns and concerns. For example, someone who was depressed and / or had suicidal thoughts tended to reproduce death-related objects, or someone who was obsessed with cleaning and germs of illness.

      Form of story

      In addition to what the patient says, it is relevant to know how he says it and the degree of involvement shown in the activity. Whether the patient collaborates or not, whether he perceives the images correctly and understands what he has to do or whether he has sufficient visualization and elaboration capacity are remarkable aspects which may indicate the presence of resistance or difficulties associated with a specific problem. to assess whether the test is indicated or not).

      Already in the story itself, it is necessary to take into account if there is coherence, linearity, contradictions, Whether or not it is fantasy or realism, whether it uses several or few adjectives or gives details.

      bibliographical references

      Murray, H. (1973). The analysis of fantasy. Huntington, New York: Robert E. Krieger Publishing Company.

      Sanz, LJ and Álvarez, C. (2012). Assessment in clinical psychology. CEDE PIR preparation manual, 05. CEDE: Madrid

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