The House-Person-Tree Personality Test

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Published by:
Practical Psychology
Andrew English
Reviewed by:
Andrew English, Ph.D.

We subconsciously project our personality onto the paper each time we draw something. 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 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, a type of psychological assessment where individuals are presented with ambiguous, abstract stimuli, such as images or scenarios, and their interpretations or responses are used to reveal hidden emotions, desires, and internal conflicts. As a projective test, the HTP is intended to measure different aspects of personality.

In this test, participants are asked to draw a house, a tree, and a person. The way they depict these elements is then analyzed. These drawings are interpreted to create a picture of the person’s cognitive, emotional, and social functioning, revealing insights that might not be easily accessed through more direct questioning or observation.

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 scoring other qualitative tests, limited empirical evidence supports its validity. house person tree test drawing

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 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 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 with a pencil or crayon for drawing or a two-phase test with a crayon in the first phase and a pencil in the second. Each phase has two parts: 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 testgivers can create variations and ask follow-up questions. 

Here are some examples of the questions that might be asked:

The house:

  • 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?

The tree:

  • What kind of tree is it? 
  • How old is the tree? 
  • What season is it? 
  • Is the tree alive?
  • Who waters the tree?

The person:

  • 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 to be 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. For instance, a tree with no branches indicates 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 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 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 to be 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. On the contrary, emotional strength, high self-esteem, and confidence are reflected in the firmness of the lines.

Test taker’s attitude

In addition to the above elements, therapists consider the test taker’s attitude, words, and gestures while drawing. Any display of frustration, anger, or satisfaction is considered in the 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.

Reference this article:

Practical Psychology. (2020, April). The House-Person-Tree Personality Test. Retrieved from

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