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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.

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