Projective Tests

The main idea with projective tests is that people tend to structure their experience around their personality. People have characteristic values, assumptions about people, ways of characterizing themselves, conflicts, and generally ways of viewing the world. Often times people's reasons for doing things are clear. For example, if you see someone shoot a gun at someone else, you can imaging that the second person is pretty well motivated to avoid being shot, and is likely to be frightened and angry. Such situations don't offer much insight into a person's personality, however, It is better to have a somewhat ambiguous situation instead, so that the person has to organize the situation. That way, what ever the person brings to the situation should reflect their characteristic disposition -- their personality. Projective tests are tests in which the test taker 'projects' his or her personality into a situation.

Some projective tests are kind of like cartoons. A situation is drawn, and part of a conversation is penned in. In a drug store a man is talking to a pharmacist. The pharmacist says, "Well, you can have the name brand aspirin for $3.00, or the same amount of the generic for $1.50. Which would you like?" What does the other man reply?

Some projective tests show pictures of people engaged in some activity, and ask the test taker to make up a story about what is happening in the picture. For example, the picture may show a boy about 9 years old sitting in a room looking at a violin. The test taker is to make up a story, like "Tommy is looking at his violin. He hates the violin because he is tone deaf and can't even tune the stupid thing, much less play it. His father makes him practice because he says it's good for Tommy. Tommy is thinking about how he's going to get hold of an arc welder and ..."


"Tommy is looking at his violin. He has just spent the last hour listening to a recording of a famous violinist. He is in awe of the sounds that he heard, and the thing he wants most in the world is to make sounds like that. He is imagining that he is playing in front of a packed concert hall. Everyone is listening the marvelous sounds he is making."

Possibly the most famous projective test contains a series of inkblots. The test taker is shown an inkblot and asked "What might this be?" or "what does this look like?"

Exner's Method of Scoring the Rorschach

Description of the Rorschach

The Rorschach contains 10 inkblots. All of the inkblots have a white background. Several of them have black blots. A couple have black and red blots, and 3 have multiple colors. The test giver explains what will happen in the test (you will describe what you see in some inkblots) and what the test is used for (e.g., to help plan your therapy). The test taker then goes through the 10 cards, one by one, saying what they see in the cards. If they see only one thing per card, they are encouraged to see some more. If they see more than 5 per card, they are stopped at 5 (except for special circumstances). During the test, the test giver writes down everything the taker says. After the taker has seen all ten, the giver goes over the responses, inquiring what was seen, where it was seen and why the taker thought it was what it was. Then the fun of scoring the thing begins. The Rorschach is difficult to score reliably.

Scoring the Individual Responses

1. Location--where is the thing that is seen?

Whole Response: the entire blot

Common detail response: a frequently identified area of the blot

Unusual detail response: infrequently identified area of the blot

Space response: a white space area is used

2. Determinants--what makes it look like that?

Form: form of the blot "these are the wings"

Movement: "Two bears playing poker" "Flames leaping up"

Chromatic Color (hues): "It's a beautiful orange flower with green leaves..." "I think you only find wings shaped like that on very rare Brazilian butterflies; I believe that they are red too, like this."

Achromatic Color (gray, black, white): "it's lighter up here like the top of a cloud"

Shading: shading for depth or dimensionality -- "it's behind" "it's an aerial view of"

Form Dimension: Impressions of depth, distance, or dimension not based on shading -- "The feet are so much bigger than the head, he must be lying down" "It's so small, it must be in the distance"

Pairs and Reflection: "A couple of" "There is one on each side"

3. Form Quality -- how well does the thing seen fit what the blot looks like? A four point scale for each response

Superior -- unusually detailed and good fit to details

Ordinary -- obvious and easily articulated and good fit

Unusual -- rare response seen quickly by test giver

Minus -- distorted, arbitrary, unrealistic use of form; creation of contours and borders where none exist

4. Contents and Populars -- what is it that is seen?














Some very common responses: I & V: bat, butterfly

5. Organizational Activity-- are elements seen organized with respect to one another? Ex: "An animal walking across a creek" "Fire coming out of a rocket"



6. What strange things did the taker say during the response?

Some bacteria you might see under a telescope

The dead corpse of a person

A trio of three people

It might be a cat, my father always hated cats

It looks like the face of Reagan if you're a Republican

I'm not sure what this could be, something like an animal nose, maybe equine or bovine, like in that play that was so filled with passions and psychological drama. I saw it twice. Yes, the nose of a horse.

It's like chicken, like you get from Colonel Sanders, but my mother makes it better, I think I must be getting hungry.

A woman with the head of a chicken

A marvelous penis with wings

Two women attacking a submarine

It must be the north pole because it's at the top of the card

7. What special content is there in the response?

Abstract: "It just reminds me of depression"

"It's just a horrible smell, please take it back!"

Aggressive movement: "Two animals are fighting"

Cooperative movement: "Three people doing a dance together"

"A bird feeding her young"

Morbid content: a broken mirror, a dead dog, a torn coat, a decaying leaf, etc.



Scoring the Rorschach as a whole test

Frequencies of various responses are tallied. Various rations, percentages, and derived scores are calculated, including scores for suicide potential, schizophrenia, depression, coping deficits, hypervigilance, and obsessive style.

Reliability and validity. I believe that after serious training in Exner's method, judges will score the same protocol the same way. Whether they would get the same answers from the same test taker at one time is unknown. Whether the test yields any useful information that could not be gotten more quickly and reliably in another manner is debatable, but there is little empirical data to support the use of the Rorschach as a measure of any psychological construct.

The TAT (Thematic Apperception Test)


The TAT was first published in 1935 by Christina Morgan & Henry Murray. The TAT contains 31 cards, 30 black and white pictures, and one blank card. Some pictures are intended for boys, some for girls, some for women and some for men. Usually only a subset (maybe 10) are administered.

Instructions: tell a story: what is happening, what characters are feeling, and the outcome.

Can be individually or group administered.

Illustrative cards

1. A young boy is contemplating a violin which rests on a table in front of him.

3. On the floor against a couch is the huddled form of a boy with his head bowed on his right arm. Beside him on the floor is a revolver.

4. A woman is clutching the shoulders of a man whose face and body are averted as if he were trying to pull away from her.

Typical delinquent (male adolescent) responses to the above cards

1. He is thinking about how much money he can get if he steals the violin and sells it on the street.

3. The guy just killed himself. No one liked him and he didn’t like himself.

4. This guy is about to beat up a man who just made a pass at his girlfriend.


Murray’s System

1. Psychogenic needs





2. Press



Force & restraint



4. Outcomes (happy or unhappy?)

3. Themes

Relationships towards parents



4. Interests & sentiments

Psychometric Issues & Research


varies -- generally poor


difficult to assess, wide range

Can discriminate among "normals, neurotics, & psychotics"