Projective Testing


In psychological assessment using projective tests, clinicians provide patients with ambiguous words, sentences, or images and look for themes in their response patterns that indicate the person's mood, anxieties, needs, motives, attitudes, and conflicts about which the person may have varied degrees of awareness.

In order to improve the reliability of scoring, some researchers developed scoring systems, which allowed for the examination of consistency among different clinicians scoring the same record and validity studies linking test results to clinical diagnoses or other measures less reliant on clinical judgment. These scoring systems have been challenged in terms of reliability and validity of the scores.

Classic psychological tests based on the projective hypothesis include the Rorschach Inkblot test, the Thematic Apperception Test, House-Tree-Person Test, and the Rotter Incomplete Sentence Blank. There are many other tests along these lines.

Following are examples of a few classic projective tests.

The Rorschach Inkblot Test is a standard series of ten cards presented to patients one at a time. Some cards are greyscale and some include color. The patient's responses are recorded and scored based on a scoring system. The test was developed by Hermann Rorschach, a Swiss psychiatrist, in 1921. A popular scoring system was developed by American psychologist, John Exner in 1974. Exner's system is also known as the Rorschach Comprehensive System. Researchers have criticized the reliability and validity of Exner's system. Meyer et al. (2002) provided evidence of good interrater reliability values. For a critique, see Mihura et al. (2013, 2018).

The Thematic Apperception Test (TAT) is a standard set of greyscale images. The TAT was developed by Henry Murray in consultation with Christiana D. Morgan in the 1930s to assist in the assessment of patient's needs according to Murray's Need Theory. Examples of needs include achievement, dominance, and autonomy. Patients are asked to tell a story in response to the picture on the card. The responses are scored according to a system. The reliability and validity of the scores have been criticized (e.g., see Kasky-Hernández, 2017). 

The Draw- A-Man Test was developed by Florence Goodenough in 1926 as a way to assess children's intelligence.

The House-Tree-Person Test (HTP) includes the drawing adds the drawing of a house and a tree and does not specify the gender of the person as in the Draw A Man test. Scoring may include quantitative and qualitative methods to assess intelligence, cognitions, emotions, and attitudes based upon features within the drawings and the patient's response to a standard set of questions. Problems of reliability and validity are an issue. See for example Lin et al. (2022).


Kasky-Hernández, L. (2017). Thematic Apperception Test. In: Zeigler-Hill, V., Shackelford, T. (eds) Encyclopedia of Personality and Individual Differences. Springer, Cham.

Lin, Y., Zhang, N., Qu, Y., Li, T., Liu, J., & Song, Y. (2022). The House-Tree-Person test is not valid for the prediction of mental health: An empirical study using deep neural networks. Acta psychologica230, 103734.

Meyer, G. J., Hilsenroth, M. J., Baxter, D., Exner, J. E., Jr, Fowler, J. C., Piers, C. C., & Resnick, J. (2002). An examination of interrater reliability for scoring the Rorschach Comprehensive System in eight data sets. Journal of personality assessment78(2), 219–274.

Mihura, J.L., Meyer, G.J., Dumitrascu, N., & Bombel, G. (2013). The validity of 
individual Rorschach variables: Systematic reviews and meta-analyses of the 
comprehensive system. Psychological Bulletin, 139, 548-605.

Mihura, J.L., Bombel, G., Dumitrascu, N., Roy, M., & Meadows, E. A.
(2018). Why we need a formal systematic approach to validating psychological 
tests: The case of the Rorschach Comprehensive System, Journal of Personality
, 101, 374-392. DOI: 10.1080/00223891.2018.1458315

Geoffrey W. Sutton, PhD is Emeritus Professor of Psychology. He retired from a clinical practice and was credentialed in clinical neuropsychology and psychopharmacology. His website is


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