Letter/Observer Forum

TAT Commentary

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
2Northwestern University

A Response from the Authors
A Clearer Picture of TAT-Based Measures of Needs

By Scott O. Lilienfeld1, James M. Wood2, and Howard N. Garb3

We welcome the opportunity to respond to Woike and McAdam’s criticisms of our Psychological Science in the Public Interest article on the scientific status of projective techniques (Vol 1, No. 2, November, 2000). Space constraints force us to focus only on three issues raised by their commentary.

First, contrary to their claims, our article did not concentrate on the misuse of the Thematic Apperception Test (TAT) or other projective techniques in clinical work, but rather on the question: How well do projective techniques stand up to scientific scrutiny when they are administered and interpreted as intended by their proponents? All psychological measures can be misused, and the prevalence and sources of such misuse are legitimate areas of study. But such misuse was not a major focus of our review.

Second, Woike and McAdams overstate the strength of the evidence for the construct validity of TAT-based measures of needs. For example, Spangler’s (1992) meta-analysis of TAT-based measures of achievement motivation revealed that such measures exhibit convergent validity with two classes of real-world achievement measures. But the absolute magnitude of this validity was relatively low, with average rs of .19 and .22. Moreover, findings from studies on TAT-based measures of needs have sometimes proven difficult to replicate (McCrae & Costa, 1984).

As noted in our review, there is relatively little evidence that TAT-based measures of achievement display incremental validity beyond measured intelligence. Moreover, the incremental validity of TAT-based measures of power and affiliation beyond self-report measures of these constructs, although promising (e.g., Woike, 1995), requires further investigation. We agree with Kuncel, Hezlett, and Ones (2001) that “The burden of proof for a new predictor should lie with its proponent, who should demonstrate its incremental validity. This demonstration must take the form of multiple validations across several (large) samples and multiple criterion measures (p. 176).”

Third, we explicitly acknowledged evidence supporting the construct validity of TAT-based measures of achievement, power, and affiliation needs in our review (p. 42). We concluded that TAT-based measures of achievement motivation were among the few projective indexes that satisfied our criteria for empirical support (p. 54), although we noted that the absence of adequate population norms renders their application to clinical settings premature. We concur with Woike and McAdams that TAT-based measures of needs provide a potentially fertile source of research for psychological scientists. We also believe that such measures hold considerably more promise than impressionistic methods of scoring and interpreting the TAT, which are used by the majority of practitioners who administer the TAT (Pinkerman, Haynes, & Keiser, 1993).

Kuncel, N. R., Hezlett, S. A., & Ones, D. S. (2001). A comprehensive meta-analysis of the predictive validity of the Graduate Record Examinations: Implications for graduate student selection and performance. Psychological Bulletin, 127, 162-181.
McCrae, R.R., & Costa, P.T. (1984). Personality is transcontextual: A reply to Veroff. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 10, 175-179.
Pinkerman, J.E., Haynes, J.P., & Keiser, T. (1993). Characteristics of psychological practice in juvenile court clinics. American Journal of Forensic Psychology, 11, 3-12.
Spangler, W.D. (1992). Validity of questionnaire and TAT measures of need for achievement: Two meta-analyses. Psychological Bulletin, 112, 140-154.
Woike, B.A. (1995). Most memorable experiences: Evidence for a link between implicit and explicit motives and social cognitive processes in daily life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 68, 1081-1091.

1Emory University
2University of Texas at El Paso
3VA Health Care System and University of Pittsburgh

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