Here's a personality test that is based on how we interpret vague hand gestures. Take a look at what people can tell from what is essentially a drawing exercise, and decide if you want to contribute a hand gesture of your own.

In the 1960s, psychologists were falling out of love with the Rorschach test. It provided too much scope for the imagination for both the patient and the psychologist. Two different psychologists could give wildly evaluations of a single patient's responses to ink blotches. The search was on for a test that could provide more consistent results. Along came Edwin Wagner with an interesting spin on image interpretation.

Wagner came up with The Hand Test, which is very much what it sounds like. Patients evaluate pictures of hands, giving their guesses as to what the hands are doing. Some of the hand gestures appear to be more clear than others (at least to me) but they are all meant to be relatively ambiguous. The ambiguity even extends to how the hands are drawn. There is very little detail, and some of the gestures could be slips of the pen. In fact, after nine hands, the tests ends on a blank card and the patient is meant to imagine a hand, and tell the psychologist what the hand is doing.


The responses are sorted in to four very general categories. There are Interpersonal responses. These include responses which claim the hands are preparing for handshakes, offering comfort, communicating by pointing or beckoning, or even pushing people away. Anything that includes another person, including aggression, is Interpersonal. Environmental responses include anything about the hand interacting with nonhuman objects. The responses can be about acquisition - grabbing or taking something - or more general actions like closing doors or gripping steering wheels.

Maladaptive responses indicate distress of some kind. They can be responses that insist a fist is tensed to hold in anger or a hand is warding off a blow. They also involve responses that indicate the person the hand is attached to is injured, like saying, "this hand is the hand of a dead man." Finally, there's Withdrawal, which consists of people refusing to go along with the test. Withdrawing subjects often just describe the hand, rather than making up an idea for what it is doing, or going completely abstract and say things like, "It's a squashed bug."


Nearly everyone will look at some hands and see negative things, but the balance of positive and negative associations varies. Wagner came up with a ratio, called the Acting Out Ratio, that indicated, based on The Hand Test score, how likely each subject was to act out violently. It was found to a decent predictor of behavior in some studies, but there are problems with the hand test. No matter how ambiguous the hand gestures seem to the people drawing them, different cultures have different hand gestures. If Americans were to see a drawn hand with its middle finger extended, there would be a limited amount of ways we could interpret the gesture. The same goes for other cultures, and unintentionally including another culture's "middle finger" can change the results of the test.

Overall the hand test is meant to give the psychologist some idea of the mental state and preoccupations of the person taking the test. Do they foresee a lot of disaster? Do they work with their hands? What do we imagine when we see an upraised hand?

[Via Diagnostic Applications of the Hand Test, The Hand Test.]