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Children’s Apperception test also known as CAT is a rather famous kind of psychological testing for children from three to ten years old. The test was designed to determine children’s personality qualities and psychological issues together with the social or intimate problems that bother them on the stages of their lives and developments when the test is conducted. Children’s Apperception test is made in a form of creative storytelling based on the set of drawings adapted specially for the children.
Children’s Apperception Test was developed in 1949 by a psychiatrist and a psychologist called Leopold Bellak and Sonya Sorel Bellak (Children’s Apperception Test 2014). The test was designed based on another well known test called Thematic Apperception Test that was created by Henry Murray. Bellak and Bellak later developed another version of their CAT, it was called CAT-H, and it was adjusted for the older children and adolescents so that the pictures for the storytelling looked more suitable for more mature test participants. This renewed version of CAT was released in 1965. The latest published version of CAT appeared in 1993.
Today, the test and its versions are widely available online together with many examples and explanations. The test can be accessed for free through the internet. Besides, all the versions and supplements of the test including CAT-A, CAT-H, and CAT-S can be purchased for forty three to forty five dollars each (Apperception Techniques 2012). Variations of CAT used to be very popular within the first several decades after the test first was created. Over time its popularity went down, yet even today, sixty five years after the invention of the test, it is still widely used by the councilors and children’s psychologists all around the world.
The purpose of Children’s Apperception Test is to uncover and identify issues a child may be dealing with at a certain period of their life. The test detects psychological disorders and the children’s attitudes and personalities though their projective responses to the drawings of the test featuring animals or humans in various social situations. It is assumed that forming a story based on the pictures, a child would employ concepts and words that are the most common in their surroundings, the child would also identify themselves with certain characters of their stories and describe various situations that seem problematic for them.
The psychologist conducting the test is the person interpreting the child’s responses, writing them down, exactly the way there are given, analyzing the lexical structure of the stories made by a child, their details, characters, situations described, emotional composition, possible symbolic or hidden meanings and issues. The cards are designed in a way to stimulate the child’s response and direct it, so that in their stories children would speak about the situations in their families, at schools, emotional and intimate subjects that bother or interest them, inner fears or hopes.
Children’s Apperception Test made by Bellak and Bellak originally contains ten pictures featuring animals in various contexts such as sitting at the dining table, going to bed, playing a game (Fahmy 2003). The images of animals were used due to the fact that small children perceive social situations better this way, for them it is more convenient to identify themselves with non-human characters. CAT-H, the supplement of the original CAT has the same pictures but features humans; this supplement was made for older children and adolescents. The pictures are printed on separate cards.
The test is to be conducted only with a supervision of a psychologist. Taking a test online is impossible because the results of the child’s individual and unique responses have to be analyzes and interpreted by a real person. The test does not include any keys, wrong or right answers. Besides, it is not based on any fixed scoring scale. Each response is different and is to be written down and studied by a psychologist.
The test should be conducted with children individually; it cannot be taken by a group of children as it requires personal answers from children. It is better to isolate a child for the test taking them to a quiet room with calming surroundings, so that they do not get distracted. It is better to present a child with one card at a time, because viewing several pictures simultaneously may create confusion and influence the storytelling of the participant. The test does not have any time limitations, but averagely it is supposed to take around twenty minutes or half an hour for one child.
Even though CAT interpretation is based on the perception of the psychologist supervising the test, it is standardized. First of all, the original test contains the images of animals only, the animals are put into family and social conditions, these are the only demographic patterns that can be followed. Secondly, the cards are shown to a child in a set order, they are also numbered. The pictures are designed to reflect such aspects as sibling rivalry, aggression, feeding issues, toilet training, or Oedipus feelings (Lara-Croon n. d.).
The test in a form of projective storytelling based on pictures for the evaluation of children’s psychological profiles was developed because evaluation based on self-analysis is unavailable for small children, the problem with interview and self-report questionnaires is the same – children may report perfect or imaginary selves. Telling a story seems the best method to reach the child’s real thoughts and feelings. The fact that the interpretation of the test’s results is not based on any definite scoring scale creates a lot of arguments about the test’s reliability.
Yet, CAT has five main bipolar scoring dimensions, which are Affiliation – Rejection, Independence – Domination, Security – Insecurity, Achievement – Failure, and Punishment – Aggression. Various scholars have tried to develop their own scoring scales for CAT, but it did not take away the doubts of the test’s reliability, because the same stories can be perceived and interpreted differently by two psychologists. This makes the results of the test very subjective from the point of view of interpretation and evaluation.
One of the main opinions held by the experts about this test is that I suggests hypothesis instead of providing answers. Aronow, Weiss and Reznikoff (2013) argue that such tests as CAT are designed to offer an idiographic, but not nomothetic information. Basically, the purpose of the test is to uncover the participants’ views upon themselves and world around. It is difficult to evaluate CAT reliability though test-retest because the stories told by the children are never identical.
Validity of the results of CAT was also checked and observed by means of analyzing various aspects of the test responses such as number of words, number of identified characters, number of modified characters and the number of traits assigned to the characters (Lis, Mazzeschi & Salcuni 2005). Self-projective response tests such as CAT, TAT and Rorschach test and their validity are debated due to the fact that the criteria of the supervisor’s interpretation of the test responses may vary from a person to a person.
At the same time, it is worth remembering that the responses of the participants are based on the mechanisms according to which self-projection works. These mechanisms and their schemes and backgrounds can create a set of rather stable criteria for the evaluation and comparison of the results of CAT. Besides, the validity of the interpretation given by a psychologist based on the results of CAT can be compared to the child’s actual family and classroom situations and issues, this is a good way to prove the precision of the supervisor’s evaluation.
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CAT’s strength is its suitability for the younger children, who are difficult to analyze by means of application of more rationalized tests such as self-report questionnaires. The test’s weakness is the absence of clear, universal and general scoring scale. At the same time, the test is designed to provide the psychologist with very unique results, which demonstrates individual approach. The test is recommended to be conducted in kindergartens and preschools to identify causes of children’s misbehavior. The updates of the test that features pictures with humans should take into consideration ethnic backgrounds of children. The further research should be focused on the mechanisms of self-projection in children.
Apperception Techniques. (2012). CPS Publishing LLC. Web.
Aronow, E., Weiss, K. A. & Reznikoff, M. (2013). A Practical Guide to the Thematic Apperception Test. London, United Kingdom: Routlege.
Children’s Apperception Test (2014). Children’s Health. Web.
Fahmy, A. (2003). Children’s Apperception Test. Web.
Lara-Croon, N. C. (n. d.). Current Thematic Apperception Tests for Child and Adolescent Assessment. Web.
Lis, A., Mazzeschi, C. & Salcuni, S. (2005). The Children’s Apperception Test Evaluation Form: Initial Data. Psychological Reports, 96, 755-768.