Skip to main content

projective tests

projective tests A type of test, primarily used by psychologists in clinical contexts, designed to measure overall personality dynamics rather than discrete personality traits or dimensions. The tests involve presenting subjects with a relatively unstructured task, such as completing a sentence, or describing a vague shape or picture. The assumption is that, in responding to the unstructured task, individuals project their own ideas and feelings onto the stimulus. Variations in response are held to reflect differences in personality.

The underlying principles of projective tests—the generic term was not introduced until the late 1930s—derive from psychoanalytic theorizing, particularly the idea of projection, and the principle of free association. Probably the earliest projective test was the Word Association Test, described by Francis Galton in 1879, in which the individual has to respond to each word on a list with the first that comes into mind. The paradigmatic projective test is undoubtedly the Rorschach Test, first outlined in 1921, consisting of a set of ink-blots. Other projective tests include the Thematic Apperception Test, the Object Relations Test, and various sentence completion tests.

Analysis of an individual's test responses involves psychodynamic interpretation and comparison with population norms. Although attempts have been made to produce standardized scoring systems, detractors point to poor scoring standardization, inadequately established norms, and low validity, condemning the tests as unscientific. Proponents of the tests argue that the very richness of the responses and the scope they offer for clinical interpretation and evaluation is the source of their value in assessing personality dynamics.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"projective tests." A Dictionary of Sociology. . 22 Mar. 2019 <>.

"projective tests." A Dictionary of Sociology. . (March 22, 2019).

"projective tests." A Dictionary of Sociology. . Retrieved March 22, 2019 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.