General History


Modern personality assessment began in the late nineteenth century with Francis Galton, and inspired other psychologists to do research in the area of projective techniques such as Carl Jung and his word association test. Along with Jung, other tests were developed in the early twentieth century including the Rorschach ink blot test and the Thematic Apperception Test.  The early roots of projective tests trace back to social motivations that have promoted the need for development of philosophical ideas and scientific theories.  Three important figures in this development are Franz Gall, Francis Galton, and James McKeen Cattell.  (Butcher 2010).

Franz Gall’s theory of phrenology first suggested that mental activity is localized in the brain.  (Thorne & Thorne, 2005, p. 156).  Francis Galton, a pioneer in the study of human differences, conducted experiments on mental processes.  This included mental imagery and sensory abilities.  (Thorne & Thorne, 2005, p. 246).  James McKeen Cattell’s work with “mental tests” catalyzed the “scientific basis” for clinical psychology.  (Butcher 2010).

In 1921, Hermann Rorschach published Psychodiagnostik, a book detailing the Rorschach Inkblot projective test technique.

In 1935, Henry Murray and Christiana Morgan developed the Thematic Apperception Test (TAT). It was said that one of Murray’s undergraduate students inspired the idea for the TAT when she told him about her son looking at magazine pictures when he was home sick and making up stories about them. She asked Murray if there was a way to use this in a clinical scenario. Morgan and Murray developed the idea further and found pictures to use in their test. Morgan actually drew some of the pictures that were used in the test.

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(Joshua Sproul)


Aronow, E., Altman-Weiss, K., Reznikoff, M. (2001). A Practical Guide to the Thematic Apperception Test: The TAT in clinical practice. Philadelphia, PA:  Taylor & Francis.

Butcher, J. N. (2010). Personality Assessment from the Nineteenth to the Early Twenty-First Century: Past Achievements and Contemporary Challenges. The Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, Vol 6,, 1-20. doi:10.1146annurev.clinpsy.121208.131420.

Douglas, C. (1993). Translate this darkness: The life of Christiana Morgan. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Thorne, B. M., & Thorne, T. B. (Eds.). (2005). Connections in the History and Systems of Psychology (3rd ed.). New York: Houghton Mifflin Company.

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