Projective Article Summary
Lilienfield, S. O., Wood, J. M, Garb, H. N. (2001). Whatís wrong with this picture.††††† Scientific American, 284(5), 80-87.
Projective tests assess the unconscious desires, emotions, experiences, memories and imaginations of individuals. They are used to assess violence tendencies in convicts, mental stability of people, aggression in children, and sexual abuse in children. However, such tests often have little or no validity for these purposes.
The Swiss psychiatrist Hermann Rorschach first introduced the Rorschach Test in the 1920ís, a the most popular projective test today that consists of 10 inkblocks. This test was criticized in the 1950í and 1960ís because of the lack of norms and standardized procedures. Psychologist John Exner, Jr. came up with the Comprehensive System in an attempt to standardize and use norms for adults and children.† However, the Comprehensive System failed at scoring reliability and validity.† Although Exner evaluated the subject based on whether or not the responses were typical of the population and on 100 characteristics of interpretative variables, only half of the characteristics had interscorer reliability, making this test overall unreliable and invalid.
Moreover, although the Rorschach Test can detect thought disorders such as schizophrenia and manic depression (which can be detected in other valid and objective ways), it is not equipped to identify psychiatric conditions. Shockingly, although research indicates that the Rorschach Test is not valid for detecting sexual abuse in children, violence, impulsiveness, criminal behavior, the tests is mostly used for these reasons. Additionally, the norms that the Rorschach tests use are unrepresentative of the general population, and therefore are subject to over-diagnosing psychiatric conditions. This may be more detrimental for minorities, who are often unrepresentative in norms.
The second famous test is the Thematic Apperception Test, where the client forms a story based on ambiguous pictures. Sample pictures include a boy contemplating a violin, a distraught women clutching an open door, and a middle aged man looking away from a woman grabbing his arm. One card is totally blank. The administration of the TAT is not standardized, and clinicians ususally interpret the results intuitively instead of using scoring procedures. In fact, only 3% relied of clinicians who use the TAT relied on the scoring system. It is important to note that those who intuitively assess the clients are more likely to over-diagnose psychiatric conditions. The TAT also has weak test-retest reliability, and its validity is questionable because and positive results of the test are contradicted by other investigations. For example, this test does not differentiate psychotic or depressed individuals from normal. However, the TAT can distinguish certain aspect of personality, such as object relations and need for achievement. Interestingly, high need of achievement from the TAT doesnít actually predict a personís behavior.
Next, the author critiqued the Draw-a-Person test, which requires the participant to draw a picture. Psychologists base their interpretation and analysis of the participant depending on the drawings characteristics. For example large eyes indicate paranoia, missing facial features indicate depression, and long ties indicate sexual aggression. However, there is no evidence of validity linking characteristics of the drawing with the psychiatric diagnosis. Moreover, psychologists using the Draw-a-Person test also over-diagnose, and people who lack artistic ability are more likely to be diagnosed with a mental illness. Research indicates that global scoring systems might be more important than signs (characteristics of a drawing), because it combine aspects of whole picture to get sense of adjustments. The global approach successfully distinguishes normal children with those are diagnosed with aggression and disobedience.
Ultimately, projective tests should be used in limited circumstances. The methods of assessment seem to lack incremental validity, and does not show offer a better alternative to assess psychological disorders than methods that have empirically-based validity (such as objective tests and interviews). Therefore, projective tests are a waste of money and time. However, people in the mental health profession disagree with these conclusions, and claim that proper interpretation can assess unconscious that otherwise cannot be assessed. See Figure 1 for the frequency of use of projective tests by clinical psychologists. However, the authors discount these claims because negative results of validity for these projective tests were never written nor published despite the research that indicate the low validity of these tests.
Figure one. Note: graphic is adapted from Lilienfeld, Wood, & Garb, 2001)
Many innocent people suffer from the false diagnosis and the custody ruling and criminal court decisions based on these tests. The authors urge to use only when have to, and limit analysis to variables that have been proven empirically.†
†††† Interesting Facts
a. First introduced by Swiss psychiatrist Hermann Rorschach in 1920ís.
b. Consists of 10 inkblots.
c. Lacked of norms and standardized procedures.
d. John Exner, Jr. came up with the Comprehensive System
i. Attempt to standardize and use norms for adults and children
ii. Failed at scoring reliability and validity.
iii. half of the characteristics had interscorer reliability
iv. test overall unreliable and invalid
e. Can detect thought disorders such as schizophrenia and manic depression
i. Detectable in many other ways.
f. Unrepresentative of the general population
g. subject to over-diagnosing psychiatric conditions
often over-diagnose and people who lack artistic ability are more likely to be diagnosed with a mental illness