How to Score the Thematic Apperception Test

The Thematic Apperception Test was first developed in 1935.
The Thematic Apperception Test was first developed in 1935. (Image: Creatas/Creatas/Getty Images)

The Thematic Apperception Test evaluates a person's patterns of thought, attitudes, observational capacity and emotional responses by interpreting the person's responses to pictorial images. The test is administered by showing a person a set of cards that portray human figures in a variety of settings and situations. The person is asked to describe the event shown, what has led to the event, what the character(s) are feeling and thinking and the outcome of the event.

Identify the test-taker's personal and cultural history. Ascertain the test-taker's age, sex, level of education, occupation, racial or ethnic identification, first language and any other characteristics that may impact her responses.

Consider cultural, gender, class and other issues when determining whether a specific response is “normal.” Contextualize the subject's response according to her cultural, religious or personal traditions and beliefs, as well as according to other factors that inform her identity. Acknowledge that different groups respond to images differently. For instance, female subjects may read a card showing a young woman seated with a man standing behind her as implying aggression, danger or intrusiveness, while male subjects do not react to the picture with unpleasant overtones. Researchers consider gender differences such as these to be reflective of the imbalance of power between males and females.

Choose an approach to interpreting responses. The two basic approaches are the nomothetic and idiographic responses. Measure the subject's answers against the established norms for answers from subjects in specific age, gender, racial or educational levels, if the nomothetic approach is chosen. Evaluate the subject's answers by comparing them to rubrics for standard or “normal” themes, patterns or trends in the groups (cultural, religious, sex) to which the subject belongs. Identify the unique features of the subject's view of the world and of human relationships, if the idiographic approach is chosen.

Focus attention on the content of stories that the subject tells, the feeling or tone of stories and the subject's behaviors as he relates the stories. Consider verbal remarks as well as nonverbal actions or signs, such as blushing, stammering, fidgeting, avoiding eye contact, laughing, coughing and body posture.

Study details of the subject's stories, feelings, tones and behaviors to make sense of his attitudes, fantasies, wishes and inner conflicts. Identify if there is an underlying optimism or pessimism to his view of the the world and of human relationships.

Score stories on a one to seven point scale, according to the Defense Mechanism Manual. Assign scores for the the following three categories: denial, projection and identification.

Score stories for denial, which is avoidance or changing the nature of a theme, with the following point scale rubric: 1 - Omission; 2 - Misperception; 3 - Reversal; 4 - Statements of Negation; 5 - Denial of Reality; 6 - Overly Maximizing Positive, Minimizing Negative and 7 - Unexpected Goodness, Optimism. For instance, assign a score of 1 (for omission), if the subject fails to perceive salient stimuli that are perceived by nearly all of his peers. Assign a score of 3 (reversal) if the subject reverses terms of the usual perception of the card, such as describing a submissive character as having power.

Score stories for projection, which is the subject's projection of feelings onto a character in the picture, using the following point scale: 1- Attribution of Aggressive or Hostile Feelings to a Character; 2 - Additions of Ominous People, Ghosts, Animals, Objects or Qualities; 3 - Magical or Circumstantial Thinking; 4 - Concern for Protection from External Threat; 5 - Apprehensiveness of Death, Injury, or Assault; 6 - Themes of Pursuit, Entrapment, and Escape and 7 - Bizarre or Very Unusual Story or Theme.

Score stories for identification, using the following point scale: 1 - Emulation of Skills; 2 - Emulation of Characteristics; 3 - Regulation of Motives or Behavior; 4 - Self-esteem through Affiliation; 5 - Work: Delay of Gratification; 6 - Role Differentiation and 7 - Moralism.

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