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The MMPI and Projective Tests

16 February, 2016 - 09:24

One of the most important measures of personality (which is used primarily to assess deviations from a “normal” or “average” personality) is the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI), a test used around theworld to identify personality and psychological disorders (Tellegen et al., 2003). 1 The MMPI was developed by creating a list of more than 1,000 true-false questions and choosing those that best differentiated patients with different psychological disorders from other people. The current version (the MMPI-2) has more than 500 questions, and the items can be combined into a large number of different subscales. Some of the most important of these are shown in Table 11.3, but there are also scales that represent family problems, work attitudes, and many other dimensions. The MMPI also has questions that are designed to detect the tendency of the respondents to lie, fake, or simply not answer the questions.

Table 11.3 Some of the Major Subscales of the MMPI



What is measured

No. of items



Concern with bodily symptoms




Depressive symptoms




Awareness of problems and vulnerabilities



Psychopathic deviate

Conflict, struggle, anger, respect for society’s rules




Stereotypical masculine or feminine interests/behaviors




Level of trust, suspiciousness, sensitivity




Worry, anxiety, tension, doubts, obsessiveness




Odd thinking and social alienation




Level of excitability



Social introversion

People orientation



To interpret the results, the clinician looks at the pattern of responses across the different subscales and makes a diagnosis about the potential psychological problems facing the patient. Although clinicians prefer to interpret the patterns themselves, a variety of research has demonstrated that computers can often interpret the re sults as well as can clinicians (Garb, 1998; Karon, 2000). 2 Extensive research has found that the MMPI-2 can accurately predict which of many different psychological disorders a person suffers from (Graham, 2006). 3

One potential problem with a measure like the MMPI is that it asks people to consciously report on their inner experiences. But much of our personality is determined by unconscious processes of which we are only vaguely or not at all aware. Projective measures are measures of personality in which unstructured stimuli, such as inkblots, drawings of social situations, oincomplete sentences, arshown to participants,who are asked to freely list what comes to mind as thethink about the stimuli. Experts then score the responses for clues to personality. The proposed advantage of these tests is that they are more indirect—they allow the respondent to freely express whatever comes to mind, including perhaps the contents of their unconscious experiences.

One commonly used projective test is the Rorschach Inkblot Test, developed by the Swiss psychiatrist Hermann Rorschach (1884–1922). The Rorschach Inkblot Test is a projective measure of personality in which the respondent indicates his or her thoughts about a series of 10 symmetrical inkblots (Figure 11.4). The Rorschach is administered millions of time every year. The participants are asked to respond to the inkblots, and their responses are systematically scored in terms of what, where, and why they saw what they saw. For example, people who focus on the details of the inkblots may have obsessive-compulsive tendencies, whereas those who talk about sex or aggression may have sexual or aggressive problems.

Figure 11.4 Rorschach Inkblots 
The Rorschach Inkblot Test is a projective test designed to assess psychological disorders. 

Another frequently administered projective test is the Thematic Apperception Test (TAT), developed by the psychologist Henry Murray (1893–1988).

TheThematic Apperception Test (TAT) is a projectivmeasurof personality in which the respondent is asked to create stories about sketches of ambiguous situations, most of them of people, either aloneor with others("Sample Card From the TAT"[Missing]). The sketches are shown to individuals, who are asked to tell a story about what is happening in the picture. The TAT assumes that people may be unwilling or unable to admit their true feelings when asked directly but that these feelings will show up in the stories about the pictures. Trained coders read the stories and use them to develop a personality profile of the respondent.

Other popular projective tests include those that ask the respondent to draw pictures, such as the Draw-A-Person test (Machover, 1949), 4 and free association tests in which the respondent quickly responds with the first word that comes to mind when the examiner says a test word. Another approach is the use of “anatomically correct” dolls that feature representations of the male a nd female genitals. Investigators allow children to play with the dolls and then try to determine on the basis of the play if the children may have been sexually abused.

The advantage of projective tests is that they are less direct, allowing people to avoid using their defense mechanisms and therefore show their “true” personality. The idea is that when people view ambiguous stimuli they will describe them according to the aspects of personality that are most important to them, and therefore bypass some of the limitations of more conscious responding.

Despite their widespread use, however, the empirical evidence supporting the use of projective tests is mixed (Karon, 2000; Wood, Nezworski, Lilienfeld, & Garb, 2003). 5 The reliability of the measures is low because people often produce very different responses on different occasions. The construct validity of the measures is also suspect because there are very few consistent associations between Rorschach scores or TAT scores and most personality traits. The projective tests often fail to distinguish between people with psychological disorders and those without or to correlate with other measures of personality or with behavior.

In sum, projective tests are more useful as icebreakers to get to know a person better, to make the person feel comfortable, and to get some ideas about topics that may be of importance to that person than for accurately diagnosing personality.

Psychology in Everyday Life: Leaders and Leadership

One trait that has been studied in thousands of studies is leadership, theabilitytodirector inspire otherstoachievegoals. Trait theories of leadershipare theories based on the idea that some people are simply “natural leaders” because they possess personality characteristics that make them effective (Zaccaro, 2007). 6 Consider Bill Gates, the founder of the Microsoft Corporation, shown in  "Varieties o f Leaders" [Missing]. What characteristics do you think he possessed that allowed him to create s uch a strong company, even though many similar companies failed?

Research has found that being intelligent is an important characteristic of leaders, as long as the leader communicates to others in a way that is easily understood by his or her followers (Simonton, 1994, 1995). 7 Other research has found that people w ith good social skills, such as the ability to accurately perceive the needs and goals of the group members and to communicate with others, also tend to make good leaders (Kenny & Zaccaro, 1983). 8

Because so many characteristics seem to be related to leader skills, some researchers have attempted to account for leadership not in terms of individual traits, but rather in terms of a package of traits that successful leaders seem to have. Some have considered this in terms of charisma (Sternberg & Lubart, 1995; Sternberg, 2002). 9 Charismatic leadersare leaders whare enthusiastic,committed,anself-confident; whtento talabout the importance of grougoalat a broad level; anwhmake personal sacrifices for thgroup. Charismatic leaders express views that support and validate existing group norms but that also contain a vision of what the group could or should be. Charismatic leaders use their referent power to motivate, uplift, and inspire others. And research has found a positive relationship between a leader’s charisma and effective leadership performance (Simonton, 1988). 10

Another trait-based approach to leadership is based on the idea that leaders take either transactional or transformational leadership styles with their subordinates (Bass, 1999; Pieterse, Van Knippenberg, Schippers, & Stam, 2010). 11 Transactional leaders are the more regular leaders, w ho work with their subordinates to help them understand what is required of them and to get the job done. Transformational leaders, on the other hand, are more like charismatic leaders—they have a vision of where the group is going, and attempt to stimulate and inspire their workers to move beyond their present status and to create a new and better future.

Despite the fact that there appear to be at least some personality traits that relate to leadership ability, the most important approaches to understanding leadership take into consideration both the personality characteristics of the leader as well as the situation in which the leader is operating. In some cases the situation itself is important. For instance, you might remember that President George W. Bush’s ratings as a leader increased dramatically after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. This is a classic example of how a situation can influence the perceptions of a leader’s skill.

In still other cases, different types o f leaders may perform differently in different situations. Leaders whose personalities lead them to be more focused on fostering harmonious social relationships among the members of the group, fo r instance, are particularly effective in situations in which the group is already functioning well and yet it is important to keep the group members engaged in the task and committed to the group outcomes. Leaders who are more task-oriented and directive, on the other hand, are more effective when the group is not functioning well and needs a firm hand to guide it (Ayman, Chemers, & Fiedler, 1995). 12


  • Personality is an individual’s consistent patterns of feeling, thinking, and behaving.
  • Personality is driven in large part by underlying individual motivations, where motivation refers to a need or desire that directs behavior.
  • Early theories assumed that personality was expressed in people’s physical appearance. One of these approaches, known as physiognomy, has been validated by current research.
  • Personalities are characterized in terms of traits—relatively enduring characteristics that influence our behavior across many situations.
  • The most important and well-validated theory about the traits of normal personality is the Five-Factor Model of Personality.
  • There is often only a low correlation between the specific traits that a person expresses in one situation and those that h e expresses in other situations. This is in p art because people tend to see more traits in other people than they do in themselves. Personality predicts behavior better when the behaviors are aggregated or averaged across different situations.
  • The Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) is the most important measure of psychological disorders.
  • Projective measures are measures of personality in which unstructured stimuli, such as inkblots, drawings of social situations, or incomplete sentences are shown to participants, who are asked to freely list what comes to mind as they think about the stimuli. Despite their widespread use, however, the empirical evidence supporting the use of projective tests is mixed.


  1. Consider your own personality and those of people you know. What traits do you enjoy in other people, and what traits do you dislike?
  2. Consider some of the people who have had an important influence on you. What were the personality characteristics of these people that made them so influential?