Each time we draw something, we subconsciously project our personality onto the piece of paper. Without us realizing it, even the simplest drawing can shed light on our emotions, intelligence, self-esteem, and fears.
A drawing assessment known as the house-tree-person test is a common technique that psychologists use to learn more about personality traits.
What is the House-Tree-Person Test?
The house-tree-person test (HTP) is a projective test intended to measure different aspects of personality. Test takers are asked to draw a house, a tree, and a person. The interpretation of these drawings is used to create a picture of the person’s cognitive, emotional, and social functioning.
Qualitative scoring, on the other hand, is a subjective analysis of a drawing meant to measure the test taker’s personality. This type of scoring of the house-tree-person test is highly personal and can vary from one analyst to another. Similarly to the scoring of other qualitative tests, there is limited empirical evidence to support its validity.
The house-tree-person test was developed by early clinical psychologist John Buck in 1948. Based on the Draw-A-Man personality test created by Florence Goodenough in 1926, it was originally designed to assess children’s intelligence. Buck further updated the HTP test together with psychologist Emanuel Hammer in 1969.
The house-tree-person test is one of the most widely used projective tests for children and adults and is suitable for any individuals aged 3 years and older.
The test is used by clinical psychologists, occupational therapists, and educators. It is also employed as part of a series of personality and intelligence tests, including the Rorschach, TAT, and WAIS, as a means of personality assessment. What’s more, the HTP test is an effective tool in evaluating brain damage in patients with schizophrenia.
The House-Tree-Person Test Methodology
The house-tree-person test takes on average 150 minutes to complete.
Therapists can choose between a one-phase test where a pencil or crayon is used for drawing and a two-phase test that uses a crayon in the first phase and a pencil in the second. Each phase has two parts where the first nonverbal and creative step is followed by the structured, verbal one.
Test takers are instructed to draw a house, a tree, and a person as accurately as possible on separate sheets of paper. They are then asked a number of questions about their drawings. Buck proposed a list of 60 questions, however, trained test givers are free to create their own variations and ask follow-up questions.
Here are some examples of the questions that might be asked:
- Who lives in the house?
- Do people visit the house?
- Is it a happy house?
- What is the house made of?
- What goes on inside the house?
- What kind of tree is it?
- How old is the tree?
- What season is it?
- Is the tree alive?
- Who waters the tree?
- Who is the person?
- How old is the person?
- How does that person feel?
- Is the person happy?
- What does the person like doing?
After the respondents have answered the questions, their drawings are analyzed and interpreted.
The House-Tree-Person Test Interpretation
The house-tree-person test is based on the idea that drawings reflect feelings. The details of a drawing are seen as representations of various personality traits.
Drawing a house
The house is considered being the expression of the respondent's family relations and family values.
- The roof stands for the intellectual side and spiritual life of the individual.
- The walls might be related to the test taker’s character strength.
- The doors and windows represent the individual’s relationship to the outside world and the level of social integration.
Drawing a tree
The tree is thought to suggest the deepest, unconscious aspects of the personality.
- The branches may show the degree of social connectedness. A tree with no branches indicates, for instance, that the person has little contact with others.
- The trunk is often seen as a representation of inner strength.
- The tree crown stands for ideas, thoughts, and self-concept.
Drawing a person
The person is a symbolic representation of the ideal self and one’s social interactions.
- The head symbolizes intelligence, communication, and imagination.
- The eyes indicate the perception of the world.
- The hands give information about affectivity and aggressiveness.
There are several other aspects of drawings that therapists take into account when analyzing HTP tests:
Dimensions of objects
The dimensions of objects in a drawing are thought to indicate the level of self-esteem and confidence. A very small house, for example, might show the individual’s dissatisfaction with life at home.
Level of detail
The level of detail is another revealing factor in outlining the respondent’s personality through drawing. A very detailed face might indicate a need to present oneself in a favorable social light. On the contrary, pictures lacking details often indicate depression.
Location of objects
The location of objects on the page is also charged with significance. Drawings close to the top of the page are considered being related to dreams and imagination, while the ones at the bottom are connected to the physical world. Drawing on the right side of the page is linked to the future, in the center are related to the present, and left to the past.
Strokes and lines
The pressure, firmness, and solidity of strokes and lines indicate determination and decision-making facilities. The same line drawn twice shows insecurity, dissatisfaction, or perfectionism. Emotional strength, high self-esteem and confidence, on the contrary, are reflected in the firmness of the lines.
Test taker’s attitude
In addition to all of the above elements, therapists also consider the test taker’s attitude, words, and gestures while drawing. Any display of frustration, anger, or satisfaction is taken into account in test analysis.
The House-Tree-Person Test Scoring
A house-tree-person test can be scored either in an objective quantitative or subjective qualitative manner. Trained therapists rely on John Buck’s comprehensive 350-page manual and interpretive guide in administering and scoring the HTP tests.
Quantitative scoring provides a general assessment of intelligence. Research shows that the quantitative assessment correlates highly with other well-established intelligence tests.