Sunday, 21 June 2015

Stream of Consciousness (1) - TAT Cards

As a writer and dream analyst I was keen to undertake some stream of consciousness/free association work. This is a technique used by Sigmund Freud as part of the psychoanalytical method of dream interpretation. The concept is that the individual should facilitate a spontaneous, continuous and unadulterated stream of thoughts, ideas, emotional responses, memories and associations to flow. There should be no attempt to control or 'censor' the flow of material.

These stream of consciousness exercises were originally posted as a stand-alone page on this Blog. However, after careful consideration I decided to update the format which involved removing some content which was not in keeping with the theme of this Blog. I have decided to re-post the stream of consciousness content on the main Blog home page as it is relevant to my study of dreams and dreaming and is a particularly valuable exercise to learn when interpreting dreams.

In addition, some of my favourite artists use this technique in their writing - from the obvious examples of James Joyce and Virginia Woolfe, to hip hop MC, Ghostface Killah, whose style is said to be characterised by a stream of consciousness flow.

I was also interested in Thematic Apperception Testing, which is a psychological method of picture interpretation which is said to demonstrate the subject's inner thoughts, emotions and social relationships. This form of test was shown in my favourite film, A Clockwork Orange (1971) as a way of measuring the psychological profile of anti-hero Alex whilst he is sentenced to imprisonment for murder.  

TAT is a form of ‘projective’ psychological testing - was developed by the American psychologist Henry A. Murray and Christiana D. Morgan at the Harvard Clinic at Harvard University during the 1930s. A widely held belief is that the idea for the TAT emerged from a question asked by one of Murray's undergraduate students, Cecilia Roberts.  She reported that when her son was ill, he spent the day making up stories about images in magazines and she asked Murray if pictures could be employed in a clinical setting to explore the underlying dynamics of personality. Murray wanted to use a measure that would reveal information about the whole person but found the contemporary tests of his time lacking in this regard. Therefore, he created the TAT. The rationale behind the technique is that people tend to interpret ambiguous situations in accordance with their own past experiences and current motivations, which may be conscious or unconscious. Murray reasoned that by asking people to tell a story about a picture, their defences to the examiner would be lowered as they would not realize the sensitive personal information they were divulging by creating the story.

Murray and Morgan spent the 1930s selecting pictures from illustrative magazines and developing the test. After 3 versions of the test (Series A, Series B, and Series C), Morgan and Murray decided on the final set of pictures, Series D, which remains in use today. After World War II, the TAT was adopted more broadly by psychoanalysts and clinicians to evaluate emotionally disturbed patients. 

The TAT is popularly known as the picture interpretation technique because it uses a series of provocative yet ambiguous pictures about which the subject is asked to tell a story. The subject is asked to tell as dramatic a story as they can for each picture presented, including the following:

  • what has led up to the event shown
  • what is happening at the moment
  • what the characters are feeling and thinking
  • what the outcome of the story was

If these elements are omitted, particularly for children or individuals of low cognitive abilities, the evaluator may ask the subject about them directly. Otherwise, the examiner is to avoid interjecting and should not answer questions about the content of the pictures. 

The examiner records stories verbatim for later interpretation. The complete version of the test contains 31 picture cards. Some of the cards show male figures, some female, some both male and female figures, some of ambiguous gender, some adults, some children, and some show no human figures at all. One card is completely blank and is used to elicit both a scene and a story about the given scene from the storyteller. 

Although the cards were originally designed to be matched to the subject in terms of age and gender, any card may be used with any subject. Although Murray recommended using 20 cards, most practitioners choose a set of between 8 and 12 selected cards, either using cards that they feel are generally useful, or that they believe will encourage the subject's expression of emotional conflicts relevant to their specific history and situation. However, the examiner should aim to select a variety of cards in order to get a more global perspective of the storyteller and to avoid confirmation bias (i.e. finding only what you are looking for).

When he created the TAT, Murray also developed a scoring system based on his need-press theory of personality. However, implementing this scoring system is time-consuming and was not widely used. Rather, examiners have traditionally relied on their clinical intuition to come to conclusions about storytellers.

Although not widely used in the clinical setting, several formal scoring systems have been developed for analyzing TAT stories systematically and consistently. Two common methods that are currently used in research are the:

  • Defence Mechanisms Manual (DMM). This assesses three defence mechanisms: denial (least mature), projection (intermediate), and identification (most mature). A person's thoughts/feelings are projected in stories involved.
  • Social Cognition and Object Relations (SCOR) scale. This assesses four different dimensions of object relations: Complexity of Representations of People, Affect-Tone of Relationship Paradigms, Capacity for Emotional Investment in Relationships and Moral Standards, and Understanding of Social Causality.

Examiners are encouraged to explore information obtained from the TAT stories as hypotheses for testing rather than concrete facts.

Like other projective techniques, the TAT has been criticized on the basis of poor psychometric properties. Criticisms include that the TAT is unscientific because it cannot be proved to be valid (that it actually measures what it claims to measure), or reliable (that it gives consistent results over time). As stories about the cards are a reflection of both the conscious and unconscious motives of the storyteller, it is difficult to disprove the conclusions of the examiner and to find appropriate behavioural measures that would represent the personality traits under examination. In addition, as the present needs of the storyteller change over time, it is not expected that later stories will produce the same results.

The lack of standardization of the cards given and scoring systems applied is problematic because it makes comparing research on the TAT very difficult. With a dearth of sound evidence and normative samples, it is tough to determine how much useful information can be gathered in this manner.

Some critics of the TAT cards have observed that the characters and environments are dated, even ‘old-fashioned,’ creating a ‘cultural or psycho-social distance’ between the patients and the stimuli that makes identifying with them less likely. Also, in researching the responses of subjects given photographs versus the TAT, researchers found that the TAT cards evoked more ‘deviant’ stories (i.e., more negative) than photographs, leading researchers to conclude that the difference was due to the differences in the characteristics of the images used as stimuli. In a 2005 dissertation, Matthew Narron, Psy.D. attempted to address these issues by reproducing a Leopold Bellak 10 card set photographically and performing an outcome study. 

The results concluded that the old TAT elicited answers that included many more specific time references than the new TAT. Despite criticisms, the TAT remains widely used as a tool for research into areas of psychology such as dreams, fantasies, mate selection and what motivates people to choose their occupation. 

Sometimes it is used in a psychiatric or psychological context to assess personality disorders, thought disorders, in forensic examinations to evaluate crime suspects, or to screen candidates for high-stress occupations. It is also commonly used in routine psychological evaluations, typically without a formal scoring system, as a way to explore emotional conflicts and object relations. TAT is widely used in France and Argentina using a psychodynamic approach. Due to the test's popularity and importance within psychology, the TAT has appeared in a wide variety of media. 

The Thomas Harris novel Red Dragon includes a scene where the imprisoned psychiatrist and serial killer Dr. Hannibal Lecter mocks a previous attempt to administer the test to him while Michael Crichton included the TAT in the battery of tests given to the disturbed patient and main character Harry Benson in his novel, The Terminal Man. The test is also given to the main characters in two widely-differing tales about the human mind: the aforementioned cult classic, A Clockwork Orange and Daniel Keyes's Flowers for Algernon. Italian poet Edoardo Sanguineti wrote a collection of poetry called T.A.T (1966–1968) that refers to the Test.

Therefore, I decided to find as many of the TAT images online and conduct the test myself as a stream of conscious exercise in line with guidance found on various websites and Blogs, which recommends looking at the given image and then writing (in line with the information given above on the suggested technique) in stream of consciousness mode for approximately 10 minutes, recording whatever comes to mind. I took this to mean continuous writing, although other Blog authors who have conducted the same experiment themselves seem to write very little, sometimes one or two poetic sentences. I tried to keep the idea of a ‘story’ in mind, as this is what Murray intended, and therefore my language is simply the words as they emerged in my mind – If something is written erroneously or grammatically incorrect, so be it – that is the nature of stream of consciousness writing – it is unedited in the flow of associations, thoughts and ideas on the page and not intended to be polished and ‘literary’ per se. I may be telling you this to simply excuse some terrible writing :) 

I will also add that I do not know which set of pictures I am using, as Google is not necessarily accurate in labelling and I wanted to get started with the exercise rather than spending large amounts of time searching through articles on the internet (I do enough of that for my studies/work!) to find exactly which cards were selected by which researched. Instead I will simply use whichever images seem to be popular on credible sites/Blogs when searching for TAT. I will post the image and the stream of consciousness text as soon as I complete each, but unfortunately I am not best placed to analyse my results – that is for my readers to do!!! Any feedback would be gratefully received. 


The two women are in the lab, both middle-aged and living in a working-class area of England - it is not the present, but rather several decades back. Both women are married and live ordinary lives, but they are employed by a laboratory in a factory to conduct experiments into food product flavouring. The woman in the background is the supervisor of the woman in the foreground, undertaking the experiment. Their names are Maude and Judy, respectively. Maude doesn't really care for Judy, as you can see from the expression on her face. She feels that she is not serious in her work and is fickle. Judy is slightly younger than Maude and has been married for less time. She feels that her youth has slipped away from her and that she has nothing exciting or vibrant in her life. She regrets settling for married life when she could have had a career in science. On this particular day, Maude is anxious as there is a deadline to achieve - the women must complete their tests by the afternoon, but Judy is in a strange mood and can't concentrate, her mind seems to be wandering. Instead of taking her break for a cup of tea, Maude is forced to stand over Judy to ensure that Judy is getting her work done, and is constantly snapping at her and reprimanding her for her sloppy work. At one point Judy looks like she will burst into tears. She cannot tell Maude that she is worried because she found a syringe in her only son's bedroom, in a paper bag under his bed. She doesn't know how to ask him whether he is using heroin. There is a lack of communication between the women and as a result, the work assignment is not completed by the deadline and Maude is given a written warning from their employer. This makes her relationship with Judy even worse, as in her 15 years of working for the factory she has never once been disciplined for her conduct or supervision of other staff. She only tells Judy about the written warning when Judy is in the canteen, moaning about her husband Franky, who has a gambling problem and never helps around the house. Judy only married Franky because she accidently fell pregnant with her son, Roy. Maude has never understood how Judy is able to express her dissatisfaction with her marriage with such ease in front of work colleagues, some of whom are virtual strangers. Yes, she has had her fair share of problems in her own marriage - her husband Dirk is no angel, he isn't opposed to walloping her over the head with the television remote control or pushing his half full glass from the end table in frustration at her if she dare to say something 'silly'. That's just the way men are, she thinks. They hate a woman with a good career.


Colin gave the regular impression of possessing more fingers than possible for the normal human hand. His mother, Norma Jeane, named after Marilyn, but born before her, by only a year, indicating that her birth certificate might have been altered some time after her previous registration by another name, wore bat sleeves to cover her bat hands, hands bad from years on the broom. Looking out at the green green avenue at low morning, the sky is a light Tuesday grey-blue, with a light cloud and maybe some rain. Long playing-fields, grass commons, sycamore trees and low walls of stone. It’s the outskirts of London, the 1970s or 1908s, both will live into the 1990s for sure, but not Colin if he goes worse wrong than now. She looks older than she really is - or maybe she doesn’t and it’s a trick of the light. Colin was a graduate from some seaside university or college or the other, a Mrs Robinson lover type, so slick and smooth as he stood there, Teddy Boy swag, passive-aggressive self scowling internally from his stomach to his cheek, as his mother curtain-twitched the neighbourhood day in day out, anxious about the jibber-jabber of the gossip-mongerers in town who might whisper dirty words about her precious son, just back from the cold grim grime of the prison yard, and standing in her 1920-style (art deco? Maybe it was, maybe it was some other historical movement or era she was recreating in the house near the corner shop and the railway line, quaint when it’s sunny out) living-room, staring black hell into the carpet, but silent forever silent. Mrs Hubbard, that was her last name and how people would talk to her, was not a popular woman, people said she was a lunatic, but she wasn’t really, she was just ‘simple’ or whatever euphemism you can use for retarded nowadays, that was what she was, not a bad, nasty woman, just had some trouble comprehending what the modern world was about. Colin didn’t live in the modern world either – the two of them would spend their days, with her looking outward at a landscape unknown to her little eye on the inside, all worry and strife about what might be said, what might be heard, and Colin on the inside too, but looking inside more, as if he was looking into his mother’s womb or her cerebral cortex or her lungs. He wasn’t interested in what went on outside the window, he was stewing a hate and repressing an eruption, so nearly an erection, one hair breadth away, besides he was on probation and couldn’t go through all that again, cell share, stench of overflow, semen in the showers, the innuendos and jibes and the revenge-eyed screws, no way, Jose, coin a phrase, write a jingle and sell it for a million quid to a record label. Ex-con. He would continue to stare in as his mother stared out and hung her head in shame, many fingered man.


He was the kind of man who didn’t connect well to the living, was William Honest, a man who couldn’t live up to the name with which he was burdened. He wanted to drive a Jaguar, but he had a Fiat. He lived on a street where punks crackpiped it until dawn, with no let up. That’s why he chose to visit whore, or lady friends as he referred to them, when taking tea in the conservatory and miming over paragraphs in books he dare not lose himself because he wasn’t that type of man. He held his head in shame, oh squalid bedsit in shady part of town, why come to hell everyday just to get let out and walk back in. She looks dead, but that’s just valium, she always takes it right before and after to wash clean the membrane before dreamless sleep. He wishes he could sleep, insomniac and scared of doctors, he will go back to his two up two down and eat biscuits to make his face smile again with the evening news, oh no it’s war again, another cup of tea, almost a coup and no casualty. There are pine trees in the garden and he will never know, but that whore’s favourite song was Venus as a Boy, by Bjork, she loved that song and so did Kate Moss, I read it in an article once, Just 17. She tried to make the bedsit better with pictures on the wall and books on a bedside cabinet she never bought herself, but William knew she wasn’t an intellect, like him, as in he wasn’t either, both just average people. He would come (cum) on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays and she would let him sit in the window seat and drink milk (milky) and watch sports on the small telly. Talking about what it was like in maths class once and the beach would crash in and crash out behind the window. She liked to play dead on weekdays and he was grateful not to have to small-talk her fears away once ejaculate and withdraw and outwards into rain without pay sometimes, pay double the next, he was on Job Seekers Allowance, small time theft on side, handle stolen goods, make small wage, that’s why it’s funny his name is Honest, I told you. He met her on a Bank Holiday Monday – what does that matter when both jobless and on the drink mid-morning – he was not a drunk, he was out in the City, I mean London City, financial capital, some days, all sober mind, shiny-shoe look-for-work, but now it was filth in crap-floor, carpet-grot council flat-upon-sea-cliff. Half-way home – has she got pre cons, marks on the arm – traintracks! No, trackmarks! Anything that shouts ‘disease’? Of the mind is alright, we can all handle a bit of madness if there’s some fun attached somewhere along the line. It’s a Shotter’s Nation, THAT was the album he was listening to in the disco, or parts of it, could have been a fancy house party. Yeah he doesn’t mind a tiny bit of madness if he can stick it in.


There was something off-putting about the room, the way the shadow jumped out in front of Rancid’s head, and the slimy things which slivered, slithered out from under the bed. Rancid thought there was something of the Grecian Goddess about her, she dressed that way and liked to bring on her own tragedy. Bertram thought he was an army soldier, but it was mainly just delusion, his brain had seizures since the brawl in the pub toilets. Bertram and Rancid are married, or at least they are pretending to be, now that they live in a different town. Rancid is distraught because Bertram doesn’t love her anymore. He complains about everything and likes to leave the house and eat fish without her. She never gets to leave the house anymore, unless she is taking the baby to the playground outside the flat. She cries because Bertram likes to drink and be nihilistic in all ways, but none. He watches films that she does not like and he hates the tiles she has laid down for the kitchen floor. She is crying because he is a nasty person and he likes to drink so much that he passes out and then the bad things happen in the room. The light outside the window isn’t right and the door handle elongates beyond natural proportions in Rancid’s hand. She wonders is she is a person created by Stephen King, or real flesh and blood, because sometimes in this house it is hard to tell. She is wearing the Grecian Goddess dress today, because today is the day for making or baking bread and Bertram is drunk out of head on Scotch and he is lying in his military gear, and the house is just crumbling paint and debris around the ruins. They will play Scrabble later and she has to let him win and then they might do some crafts together on the big long table or he will go out at dusk by himself to play on the arcade machines in the town centre – the town could be Cromer, that’s how it looks now, or bigger, Great Yarmouth. It is cold and grey out and it is windy. Bertram will get a chill if he doesn’t wear a jacket. It’s earlier than he thought, the shops are still open and he can go out and buy things. Rancid is still at home, she is standing by the sculpture, screaming, because they were both alone together the whole time.


If you look, the latter back man, the one to the right, slightly left, he has one arm missing, it was sawn off at the elbow, he was one of these people who have a fetish about amputation, he asked for it to be done, the circus freak, the other man, little bit more to the front, is his uncle, he shares the name Nathan Barley with a telly character, but he is not the same person, instead he is a butcher. He is cutting a man up, or at least that’s what he wants amputee Richendo to think, instead he is just sticking pins like Hellraiser in him, saying it’s a treatment for whatever ailment Darian has, but it is not clear, as he did not ask for this treatment, it has been forced on him as a demonstration of some sort. Notice the window to the left back of the room, behind Machos’ head? It is very crooked, like something went wrong in there, that laboratory or wherever this crude doctory is actualising itself, it maybe some lock-up in East London. Machos is an orphan and he stumbled into this place, he used to sell matchsticks on the corner, and how his skeletal is bent out of all normalness. He looks all misplaced. His face is rather anxious about something, but he doesn’t see what is behind him. He sees that the bad man – that is Nathan Barley, has brought a gun, and leant it against the wall. Machos hates guns, he once shot some flowers in a flower patch and felt guilty about his impact on the natural world. He does not know who possesses the gun and that gives him a sense of dread. His face is twitching. He hears reggae music in the back and the screams of Darian, silenced by palm on mouth. He is dressed as a posh schoolboy, but he does not attend school and he is learning nothing from being in the presence of Nathan Barley, in fact he would be more of less inclined to commit suicide if Nathan Barley tried to take him under his wing, he has bad intentions of more or less everyone with whom he crosses paths, not that he walks on the right side of the road. He likes to minimalise or trivialise his risk upon society, but in truth he is very psychopathic, his nephew fears him greatly and can see that if Machos does not leave soon, he might well be butchered up and put away to decompose.


Rebecca is a simple girl who works in the fields for a living, but she wants to improve herself. She joins a library and enrols at the community college to undertake a course in literary appreciation, but she is falling behind with the coursework as her family constantly burden her with plough work in the hot son. Rebecca is in love with her cousin Jove, who also works the fields. Jove is a pseudo intellect who preaches of his struggles in the Russian mafia, all lies, but his family allow him to live through his delusions without offering resistance or disbelief. Jove will break Rebecca - he is conducting an elicit affair with another woman in the village, a Mrs Roper, who works behind the counter in the post office. Rebecca has no indication and daydreams of running away with Jove to a land far away from their Mid Western homeland where they can start a family without the intrusion of their relatives who would surely disapprove of their alliance. Rebecca plays the flute and the accordian well - she was raised in a musical family, one where every child is expected to entertain the elders at every social gathering. The family also keep geese. Rebecca's mother, Old Aids, makes a beautiful cauliflower soup with the produce from the garden. There is no telivision or internet and no-one knows or cares for the latest fashions. Rebecca wants to visit New York and Miami. Her dreams will be made on the East Coast and there her plough experience will be obsolete and her knowledge of ee cummings praised over peanut butter sandwiches and pizza slices, with Jove by her side.


Jacent was a nasty boy - he dressed as Christ in robes of ochre and deemed himself completely superior to all and sundry, including his adoptive family. The adoptive family had bought him at a child auction, back in the days of the Cold War and he had never matured beyond the age of 9 years - he was stuck, stuck, stuck in a rut and declined to climb out of his own accord. He had been made by his adoptive mother, Molly Lips, to visit various child psychiatrists in Germany (where they are allegedly more educated, according to Mrs Lips) and none of them could diagnose his disorder or even hazard a guess at what was troubling the boy. He would fly into rages and try and strangle anyone who dared to cross his path or ask him what the matter was. He would break anything in the room within his moderate reach, throwing it against the porcelain walls of the house Mr Lips had sculpted out of glass for his family - he was a glassblower by trade, but had changed career and was now an unsuccessful architect, living off benefits in the council house they had been allocated at the end of the row, when their fragile porcelain house smashed to unhelpful smithereens one Sunday morning when Jacent was riling against his late breakfast. If one of the neighbours dared to complain of Jacent's unruly antics - such as his tipping water on electrical circuits or scratching swastikas into the paintwork of cars parked on the street, he would pummel their children, urinate on their property, set fire to pets - anything to relieve the burning rage which permeated his sorry being. Mrs Lips was advised by the last psychiatrist she consulted - a Mr Hans Lieber - that she should purchase for Jacent, a toy; a life-size doll, named Veronique, which he could use as a punching bag to work out his misogynistic fury. Jacent dressed Veronique as his double and beat her savagely day and night.  


Montegra was a very pernicious girl - she tried her best to capture the heart of the desirable local stud, Elmo, who was in a long-term unrequited mutual fixation with another girl - Sabbatical. At college, where they were learning the theory of the liberal arts, Montegra would lunge for Elmo, trying to kiss his dry red lips, which she thought looked like wilting red roses in the garden. Elmo would extend cruel words to burn Montegra's soul, but she would not be dissauded from her quest to marry Elmo, whose family - in the artichoke trade - was said to be one of the wealthiest in East London. The situation came to a head on 'India Day' when the students were asked to dress in national costume and perform dances for local residents. Backstage, the tension between Montegra, Elmo and Sabbatical was building. Montegra was pretending that she was totally unaware of the other two persons' feelings towards her. Sabbatical was anxious, because she was bitterly jealous of Montegra's gold sari and glass bangles. Elmo had not bothered to come in costume - he was not one for authority or abiding by rules, it was in his blood to rebel. He was desperate to consumate his lengthy admiration of Sabbatical, today - he was also not one to be patient and wait for miracles. But the presence of Montegra and her unwaning passions and desires was proving to be an obstacle to the satiation of his sexual lust for Sabbatical. When Montegra tried to grope him behind the curtain, he tried to pull away, but she caught his wrist in a death-grip, telling him she loved him and she was a better match for him than the shy and introverted Sabbatical. Sabbatical was watching from some distance away and could not hear what was being said. She thought she might stop breathing or brain hemorrhage if this didn't stop.  


  1. All the stories reflect so much of negative vibes.....

    1. Maybe because I perceive the images to be quite negative. Or maybe I have a negative imagination. Don't take it too seriously, it's just creative, imaginative writing. Far more disturbing things are going on in the real world :)

  2. Well I enjoyed your interpretations enormously - far more detailed than anything I would have ever described. The embellishments were inspired.

    My story for TAT3 was perhaps a little less forgiving than yours, but I preferred your description of domestic despair.

    PS: I love the way you separate your adjectives with commas - I see that so infrequently these days.