The Quick Visual Test That Reveals How You Really See The World Around You

How dramatic are you?

woman in black and white Koy Jang, SensorSpot / Getty Images via Canva

Everything we know or perceive is based on our own unique experience throughout life. What we go through, what we witness, and how we feel all come together to help us make assumptions that make the world around us make sense.

Everything we see causes natural responses from us that reveal our innermost motives and concerns. Psychologists have known this for a long time and have created tests that help them understand people better.


One such evaluation is a psychological test known as the Thematic Apperception Test (TAT).

Look at the image below. What do you see?

thematic apperception test Jobstijding by Carel WillinkPhoto: "Jobstijding" by Carel Willink

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Now that you’ve taken in the details of the image, ask yourself the following questions about the image you just observed:

  1. What is the story behind the image?
  2. What is the woman doing?
  3. What is the man doing?
  4. What is the overall feeling of the image?

The idea is to create a story in your mind about what is going on in the picture. This should include deciding what event is taking place, what led up to the event, and what the outcome of the story is.

Psychotherapist Emily Iniekio goes over details of how to take the Thematic Apperception Test in a TikTok video:



What is the Thematic Apperception Test?

The Thematic Apperception Test (TAT) is a projective test that was developed by Henry A. Murray and Christiana D. Morgan at Harvard University in the 1930s. TAT is widely known as the picture interpretation technique.


The test was created based on the theory that the responses of subjects in the stories they make up surrounding the picture give an inside look at how they think and the way they see the world from a social perspective.

One of Murray’s students named Cecilia Roberts told him that her son was mentally ill and would make up narratives based on images he saw in a magazine. She wanted the boy to undergo psychological evaluations to see if he had any personality disorders.

On Murray’s part, he was interested in finding a way to learn about the "whole person," but the most common methods failed to meet his needs. So, the Thematic Apperception Test was born.

The intent was to ask people to interpret ambiguous circumstances using their experiences, motivations, and assumptions, conscious or subconscious. Murray believed the storytelling aspect would lower their defense mechanisms and reveal personal information.


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How does the Thematic Apperception Test work?

To conduct the test, participants are given 32 picture cards and asked to create their own dramatic story about the images by asking themselves the questions mentioned earlier.

The examiner is supposed to avoid interjecting or answering any questions about the pictures, but can ask the subject about any questions they failed to answer.

The cards contain a variety of images: males, females, or both. Some are adults, others children, while a few show no humans at all. The blank cards are meant to prompt the participant to create their own scene and then a story about the image they created.


Of the 32 cards available, Murray recommended using 20, but most examiners use 8 to 12. The card themes include success and failure, competition and jealousy, relationships, sexuality, and aggression.

TikToker Savvas Trichas shares more of the images from the test:



What do answers to the Thematic Apperception Test mean?

There are no right or wrong answers in the TAT. It’s simply meant to evoke an involuntary peek into a person’s subconsciousness. Therefore, due to the uniqueness of each individual response, it is subjective.


However, there are trends and patterns that can help identify certain psychological traits.

The scoring system looks at 28 needs and 20 environmental influences (presses), all scored 1 to 5 by intensity, duration, frequency, and relevance to the plot of the story.

The Thematic Apperception test is not frequently used in a clinical setting, but is has helped to develop other formal scoring systems like the Defense Mechanisms Manual, Social Cognition and Object Relations (SCOR) Scale, and the Personal Problem-Solving System: Revised (PPSS-R).


TAT is used as a tool in many areas of psychology such as fantasies, mate selection, dreams, examinations to evaluate crime suspects, and personality tests to identify good candidates for high-stress occupations. You can try it yourself here.

Though it may not provide all of the answers to human psychology, the Thematic Apperception Test will continue to be a tool incorporated in the quest to figure people out.

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NyRee Ausler is a writer from Seattle, Washington, and author of seven books. She covers lifestyle and entertainment and news, as well as navigating the workplace and social issues.