Developed in 1935 by Christina Morgan and Henry Murray, the Thematic Apperception Test is a projective psychological test, or a test in which patients offer their interpretation of ambiguous stimuli. Patients are presented with 30 photos of differing scenes and one blank card. During the time in which the test is administered, the patient tells their examiner the story of the people present in each card, including what they are currently thinking and doing, how they arrived at their current positions, and what the outcome of their activity will be.
The results offer insight into the patient’s motives or concerns, as each story the patient provides concerning each test card may possibly be related to their personal struggles. However, examiners must use discretion when applying the information patients offer to diagnosis or advice; it is possible some or most of the stories will not be relevant to the patient. It is the therapist’s duty to discern what information from the Thematic Apperception Test is indicative and which was merely a fabrication the patient felt compelled to create.
Moreover, it is possible two patients offering identical stories may have opposite backgrounds and vice versa. For example, if two patients viewing a picture of a women and man sitting down to tea both say that the man is asking the woman to be married, but the first patient never married and the second had, a therapist may deduce that while the second patient is happy to have been married, the first patient has an unresolved conflict because they never had been married.
Furthermore, if two patients are very similar, for example, married accountants with children and memberships to a country club, but see different stories presented by the same test photos, they are probably internally very different and struggling in differing areas. If the first patient infers that a photographed man about to leave for work is excited, a therapist analysing Thematic Apperception Test results may infer that that patient is not experiencing any conflicts concerning his social roles. However, if the second patient sees an upset, reluctant, and suicidal man about to leave for work, a therapist analyzing test results may determine the second patient is unhappy fulfilling his social duties.
Thus, Thematic Apperception Test results may not be analyzed in a vacuum; in applying test results to a patient or in assisting with a diagnosis, an understanding of the patient’s person life must also be understood. The Thematic Apperception Test is a tool rather than a final solution.