Thursday, April 24, 2014

Umbilical Cord: Parent/Child Relationship Testing #Crafting Characters #AtoZChallenge

TAT (Thematic Apperception Test) Card
      Nature or nurture?  Which is more important, heredity or the environment in which we are raised? The answer still seems to be...both.  Even some of the inherited genes which predispose us to certain diseases and disorders can be heavily influenced by environmental factors.  But I don't think that anyone will argue that the relationships we have with our parents (or whoever raised us for the most part) are the most influential in our lives.

     While parents may not figure in your story, you might want to think about what sort of people they were and how your characters were raised.  Picture the home environment, the neighborhood, the social circle.  Were they a family of wealthy professionals, immigrants struggling to integrate, solidly middle class with a dog and a minivan?  How were your characters schooled?  Disciplined?  Did their parents cheer them on at sports events or were they always too busy? 

     There are a few psychological tests which can be used for children as young as 7 or 8 years old to examine perceptions, attitudes and experiences.  They can provide insight into a child's home life, relationships with parents and other family members, and reveal some of the child's internal thought processes, cognitive abilities, strengths and fears.

TAT (Thematic Apperception Test)
32 picture cards are used which include male, female, and gender-neutral figures. (There's also a blank one.) The subject is asked to tell a story for each picture including what led up to the event shown, what is happening in the picture, what the characters are thinking/feeling, and how the story ends.  (I was given this test when I was in 5th grade and I vividly remember the picture at the top of the post.  I thought it was really creepy.  I still do.)

Bricklin Perceptual Scales
This test is often used by professionals involved with child custody issues. The BPS can be administered to children as young as 6 years old.  It assesses the child’s perception of his or her parents in four areas: Competence, Follow-up Consistency, Supportiveness (warmth and empathy), and Possession of Admirable Personality Traits.

There are 64 questions, 32 about the mother and 32 about the father. Each question is printed on a card. On the back of each card is a response choice line from “Not So Well" to "Very Well". The test administrator reads the question, and the child gives a verbal answer. Then the child is asked the same question, worded differently, and the child answers by punching a hole in the card somewhere along the response line. This second, non-verbal response is considered the more important of the two answers.

HTP (House-Tree-Person) Test
This is a simple projective test.  The subject is given a blank piece of paper and asked to draw a house, a tree and a person.  Once he is finished, he is asked to explain it.

So, have you ever spent time thinking about a character's upbringing even though it wasn't addressed in the story?  



  1. I loved your take on nature vs. nurture and the connection between that question and character. I find more and more when faced with a question of two choices the answer is "yes". Questions like Is God watching out or are we responsible for ourselves? - See, the answer is YES. The same could be said for your question's answer. Nice Post. Hope to read more. Good luck with the A-Z!

    1. Thanks Scott. Many of life's questions can be answered by "all of the above". :-)

  2. I bet what some of those tests reveal is sad.
    I did work on my character's upbringing and his relationship with his family as it had a strong impact on him as an adult.

    1. Yes, I'm afraid many of the results are sad but they are a good tool for psychologists to use as a starting point when trying to ID certain factors influencing a child's behavior.

  3. My characters are always influenced in some way by their parents, even if their parents aren't in the story. There's always remnants of them there, because it's not something a character can leave completely behind. It's part of who they are, and that's going to showing of writing. That's my opinion anyway.
    Great post.

    1. I agree with you there. But to be honest, I haven't necessarily thought about it with some characters. now I will. :-)

  4. I think about the characters background in stories. The tests you describe above seem weird though, especially thinking of how young the children are when the test are administered. I'm with you on the picture at the beginning of the post...creepy!