April 11, 2000
Projective testing is defined as “…a stimulus to which subjects have to respond, so designed that it encourages subjects to project onto it their own feelings, desires and emotions” (Kline, p. 278). Some of the most popular projective tests are the Rorschach and the Thematic Apperception Test (TAT), which have subjects describe “ambiguous visual stimuli”. Many psychologists have thought that it is the ambiguity that causes subjects to “project”, and therefore reveal some aspects of their personality. The types of tests include sentence completion, free drawing, solid objects, and auditory projective tests.
There are several reasonable problems with projective tests. These include poor reliability (poor inter-scorer reliability), low validity (the more rigorous the study, the lower the validity will be), contextual influences on scores (tester’s race, sex, manner of administration), and poor rationale for scoring system. On the other hand, there are some reasons for the continued use of projective tests, which include the following: they are unique sources of data (some that cannot be found using other tests), they are powerful techniques (only certain “skilled” psychologists can use them), their rich data (fascinating data that is “insightful and important”), and the fact that there has been reported success of some objective scoring methods. (Kline, p. 282-283)
Source: “Handbook of Psychological Testing” 2nd ed. By Paul Kline
Projective tests are a type of psychological test which use ambiguous stimuli for test takers to respond to. The tests are generally unstructured. Results of the tests are based on an interpretation by a professional or the test administrator. Projective tests are given for the subject to have the opportunity to project his or her personality from certain stimuli as opposed to answering questions. We will discuss five negative aspects of using projective tests.
The instruments used for projective tests are not always adequate. The instruments used to collect information about a person may be of unknown or low value. Projective test devices have been considered unscientific with little scientific evidence in its favor. These tests are sometimes very time consuming.
Projective tests lack standardized methods for administration and scoring. With no true right or wrong or high or low scores, the results do not provide comparable data to clearly define the measured trait. The methods do not provide a definite analysis, and may not give a full picture of the measured variable since it is hard to control what the subject is to project.
One major criticism of projective tests is its low validity. By using ambiguous stimuli you cannot always measure the trait you intend to. Projective testing lacks content validity because tests with ambiguous stimuli cannot claim to measure an attribute. The amount of information you receive depends only on what the subject projects which may be a small range or include other undesired variables.
The low reliability of projective tests is another controversy. The results of these tests tend to be unstable over time with a low probability of getting consistent results. The results tend to reflect a person’s present state of mind rather than their personality in general. Projective tests are also easy for subjects to fake or intentionally cause error. The consistency of the interpretations also tends to vary from person to person.
A major setback for projective tests is the interpretation of results. Projective tests are primarily based on the interpretations made of what was projected. Since there is no universal code for interpretation, the interpretation is influenced by the examiner’s assumptions, opinions and biases and relies on the skill of the examiner to explicate things correctly. The interpretation is also doubtful because it is based on stimuli which may have no meaning. Also, the fact the examiner is interpreting the subject’s interpretation may mean that someone else may need to interpret the examiner’s interpretation creating a cycle.
Some examples of projective tests are the Rorschach Inkblot Test and the Thematic Apperception Test. Both have been criticized as being very time consuming and relying too much on the interpretation of the test administrator. The reliability and validity of both of these tests are low and they are determined to be unscientific.