Arnold, Magda - Story Imports in the Thematic Aptitude Test

The Structure of Concern Project compares many theoretical models from many disciplines to the Adizes PAEI model, arguing that they must all be reflecting the same underlying phenomenon. One concern structure model is described below.

The Thematic Aptitude Test was developed by Christina Morgan in the 1930's and 40's, together with Harry Morgan, a physician and biochemist whose interest in psychology bloomed after meetings with Freud and especially Jung. Harry Morgan co-founded and later directed the Harvard Psychological Clinic (Teglasi, 2001).

The TAT was a novel psychological projection technique based on the fact that when individuals interpret a social situation, they are saying more about themselves than about what they are observing. In a TAT session, subjects are presented with a series of pictures, each of which depicts a different social situation or event. Their instructions are to interpret the action in each picture and give an imaginary reconstruction of the preceding events and the final outcome. It was thought that the performance of this task would force people to project some of their own fantasies into the material and so reveal their more pressing psychological needs.

The test was quite popular in the postwar period. Clinicians found it useful in eliciting information from patients, but there remained widespread uncertainty about the interpretation and scoring of the stories patients told. In response to this uncertainty, Magda Arnold, then Director of Research and Training, Psychological Services with the Canadian Department of Veterans' Affairs, developed a technique of abstracting the universal situational-behavioural ‘maxim’ or ‘moral’ embedded in each story a client might create. This abstraction of story maxims or imports proceeded according to definite rules, and the sequence of imports was thought to reveal "the development of the storyteller's thought from story to story" in a way that revealed important facts about motivations, values and attitudes (Arnold, 1962). Arnold later accepted a chair at Loyola University, where this TAT story analysis technique was refined and further codified as a psychological assessment instrument.

Interestingly, after seven years of empirical studies, with the elicitation and coding of a vast number of stories, Arnold discovered that all TAT story imports could be roughly divided into four categories, listed below in PAEI order:

P - Reactions to adversity
A - Issues of right and wrong
E - Achievement, success, happiness, active effort (or the lack of it)
I - Human relationships

Each of these clusters was further subdivided into themes and facets of themes, but the highest level of analysis specified these four categories.

P - Reaction to adversity - includes response to any kind of adverse situation except personal failure, which is an E-category.

A - Right and wrong - stories of human action where success and failure is not the theme, but rather the ethical significance of an action or its personal consequences.

E - Achievement, success, happiness, active effort (or lack of it) - includes success or failure in its widest sense, not only success in tasks, but happy outcomes of any kind. Similarly, category one includes failures of every kind; unhappiness, disappointment and every kind of unfavourable outcome. (Mood-relevant: expectation of mood outcome - inherently future oriented. Anticipated mood=anticipated situation for emotional release.)

I - Human relationships - influence of other characters on story hero, or influence of hero on them, independent of concerns from the other categories.

1. Arnold, M. B. (1962). Story Sequence Analysis: A new method of measuring motivation and predicting achievement. New York: Columbia University Press.
2. Teglasi, H. (2001). Essentials of TAT and Other Storytelling Techniques Assessment (Essentials of Psychological Assessment Series). New York: John Wiley and Sons.
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