A P S O B S E R V E R
Vol. 14 No. 5
Psychological Science in the Public Interest
A Response to Lilienfeld, Woods and Garb
TAT-Based Personality Measures Have Considerable Validity
By Barbara A. Woike1 and Dan P. McAdams2
The November 2000 issue of Psychological Science in the Public Interest (Vol 1, No. 2) entitled "The Scientific Status of Projective Techniques" by Lilienfeld, Woods, and Garb does not provide a full and accurate account of the validity of projective measures, especially the TAT. The authors assert that projective tests are often misused in clinical work. While we do not deny that misuse of both projective and objective testing is an important social problem, we feel that the article's slanted review of the literature and its unremitting focus on misuse will lead readers to believe that projective assessments have no scientific credibility. At least with respect to the TAT, that conclusion would be highly unwarranted.
A thorough and fair-minded reading of the scientific literature documents the substantial contribution that the TAT and thematic measures have made to our understanding of personality and motivation. TAT-based measures are typically employed to assess individual differences in implicit motives, whereas self-report questionnaires provide assessments of explicit, consciously articulated motives and goals. Echoing the implicit/explicit distinction found in other cognitive domains, the two types of motives reflect different levels of awareness and are related to different modes of information processing (McClelland, Koestner, & Weinberger, 1989). For instance, Woike (1995) found that implicit motives were related to remembering hot, affective experiences congruent with the implicit goal state, whereas explicit motives were related to remembering routine events corresponding to self-descriptions and values. Implicit motives also play an important role in autobiographical memory. When individuals are asked to describe significant life experiences, they are consistently more likely to recall experiences related to their predominant implicit motive (e.g., McAdams, 1982; Woike, Gershkovich, Piorkowski, & Polo, 1999).
"The big three" implicit motives - achievement, power, and intimacy/affiliation - have been the subjects of highly successful research programs for over four decades, and considerable evidence for construct validity of each of these three personality dimensions has accumulated (for reviews, see McAdams, 2001, Chpt. 8; McClelland, 1985). For example, high TAT achievement motivation is correlated with high aspirations but moderate risk taking, self-control, delay of gratification, upward social mobility, higher education attainment, entrepreneurial innovation, and success in business. High power motivation is correlated with holding elected offices, being forceful and influential in small groups, effective organizational leadership, taking large risks to gain visibility, and getting into arguments. Inhibited power motivation may be a risk factor for illness. Intimacy motivation has been associated with time spent thinking about relationships, number of friendly conversations in daily life, and a wide range of other behaviors indicative of warm and caring interaction with others. Research also suggests that high TAT intimacy motivation predicts various indices of mental health and well-being.
There is ample evidence to demonstrate both the pervasiveness and the subtlety of relations between TAT-based implicit motives on the one hand and physiological, cognitive, and behavioral processes on the other. Psychological scientists and clinicians should not dismiss this valuable form of psychological assessment.
McAdams, D. P. (1982). Experiences of intimacy and power: Relationships between social motives
and autobiographical memory. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 42, 292-302.
McAdams, D. P,(2001). The Person: An Integrated Introduction to Personality Psychology. (3rd Ed.).
Fort Worth, TX: Harcourt College Publishing.
McClelland, D. C. (1985). Human Motivation. Glenview, IL: Scott, Foresman, and Company.
McClelland, D. C., Koestner, R. & Weinberger, J. (1989). How do self-attributed and implicit motives
differ? Psychological Review, 96, 690-702.
Woike, B. A. (1995). Most memorable experiences: Evidence for a link between implicit and explicit
motives and social cognitive processes in everyday life. Journal of Personality and Social
Psychology, 68, 1081-1091.
Woike, B.A., Gershkovich, I., Piorkowski, R., & Polo, M. (1999). The role of personality motives in
the content and structure of autobiographical memories. Journal of Personality and Social
Psychology, 76, 600-612.
1Barnard College, Columbia University
©2001 American Psychological Society