Projective tests as indicators of life history strategy: Evidence using Loevinger’s sentence completion test

  • Curtis S. DunkelEmail author
  • Steven C. Hertler
  • Eugene W. Mathes
  • Tomas Cabeza de Baca


Life history strategy represents individual variation in the degree to which bioenergetic resources are allocated toward growth, maintenance, and reproduction. Individual differences in life history strategies are thought to underlie many of the individual differences studied in Psychology. It was hypothesized that responses on the Sentence Completion Test of Ego Development are partially reflective of an individual’s life history strategy. This hypothesis was tested in three studies, each representing a different level of analysis. The results of Study 1 suggest near unity between ego-level and life history strategy at the conceptual level. In Study 2 a moderate association between rated ego-level and rated life history strategy was found. Additional analyses showed that this association remained when controlling for verbal IQ and that developmental change in each construct was correlated. In Study 3, it was found that responses to the sentence stems could be used directly to assess life history strategy. Combined, the results add to the evidence that responses on projective tests using a sentence stem format are associated with life history strategy. Future research could focus on identifying and constructing sentence stems that provide the maximum information about an individual’s life history strategy.


Life history Ego development Projective test 



This project was made possible by the Henry A. Murray Research Archive which is housed by the Institute for Quantitative Social Science at Harvard University. The data employed in this study derive from a 30-year longitudinal study begun with 128 three-year-old girls and boys, planned and conducted by Jack and Jeanne H. Block, involving a sequence of nine independent assessments based on personality and cognitive Life, Observational, Test, and Self-report (LOTS) measures.

Data collection was reviewed and approved by the Institutional Review Board at Western Illinois University.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

On behalf of all authors, the corresponding author states that there is no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

12144_2019_443_MOESM1_ESM.xlsx (9 kb)
ESM 1 (XLSX 8 kb)
12144_2019_443_MOESM2_ESM.xlsx (30 kb)
ESM 2 (XLSX 30 kb)


  1. Badcock, C. R. (1998). PsychoDarwinism: The new synthesis of Darwin & Freud. In C. Crawford & D. L. Krebs (Eds.), Handbook of evolutionary psychology: Ideas, issues and applications (pp. 457–483). Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  2. Block, J. (1978). The Q-sort method in personality assessment and psychiatric research. Palo Alto: Consulting Psychologists Press (Originally published in 1961).Google Scholar
  3. Block, J., & Block, J. H. (2006a). Venturing a 30-year longitudinal study. American Psychologist, 61, 315–337.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. Block, J., & Block, J. H. (2006b). Block and block longitudinal study, 1969–1999. Murray Research Archive [Distributor]. V1 [Version]. Retrieved from:
  5. Buss, D. M. (1995). Evolutionary psychology: A new paradigm for psychological science. Psychological Inquiry, 6, 1–30.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Buss, D. M. (2009). How can evolutionary psychology successfully explain personality and individual differences? Perspectives in Psychological Science, 4, 359–366.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Chisholm, J. S. (1999). Death, hope, and sex: Steps to an evolutionary ecology of mind and morality. New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Cohn, L. D., & Westenberg, P. M. (2004). Intelligence and maturity: Meta-analytic evidence for the incremental and discriminant validity of Loevinger’s measure of ego development. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 86, 760–772.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  9. Cosmides, L., & Tooby, J. (1994). Beyond intuition and instinct blindness: Toward an evolutionarily rigorous cognitive science. Cognition, 50, 41–77.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  10. Del Giudice, M. (2014). An evolutionary life history framework for psychopathology. Psychological Inquiry, 25, 261–300.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Dunkel, C. S., & Sefcek, J. A. (2009). Eriksonian lifespan theory and life history theory: An integration using the example of identity formation. Review of General Psychology, 13, 13–23.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Dunkel, C. S., Summerville, L. A., Mathes, E., & Kesselring, S. (2015). Using the California Q-sort measure of life history strategy to predict sexual behavioral outcomes. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 44, 1705–1711.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  13. Dunkel, C. S., Brown, N., Mathes, E. W., Summerville, L., Kesselring, S., & Colclasure, R. (2016). Testing the life history rating form. Evolutionary Behavioral Sciences, 10, 202–212.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Dunkel, C. S., Hertler, S. C., Cabeza de Baca, T., & Mathes, E. (2018). The identification of life history strategy in a short projective test. Human Ethology Bulletin., 33, 3–14.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Figueredo, A. J., Vásquez, G, Brumbach, B. H., Schneider, S. M. R., Sefcek, J. A., Tal, I. R., . . . Jacobs, W. J. (2006). Consilience and life history theory: From genes to brain to reproductive strategy. Developmental Review, 26, 243–275.Google Scholar
  16. Figueredo, A. J., Woodley, M. A., Brown, S. D., & Ross, K. C. (2013). Multiple successful tests of the strategic differentiation-integration effort (SD-IE) hypothesis. Journal of Social, Evolutionary, and Cultural Psychology, 7, 361–383.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Hawkes, K., & Paine, R. R. (2006). The evolution of human life history. Santa Fe, New Mexico: School of American Research Press.Google Scholar
  18. Hertler, S. C. (2017). Life history evolution and sociology: The biological backstory of coming apart: The state of white America 1960–2010. New York: Palgrave-McMillan.Google Scholar
  19. Hertler, S. C., Figueredo, A. J., Peñaherrera Aguirre, M. Fernandes, H. B. F., & Woodley of Menie, M. A. (2018). Life history evolution: A biological meta-theory for the social sciences. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
  20. Hy, L. X., & Loevinger, J. (1996). Measuring ego development. Mahwah: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  21. Kenrick, D. T., & Griskevicius, V. (2013). The rational animal: How evolution made us smarter than we think. Basic Books (AZ). Google Scholar
  22. Kuhn, M. H., & McPartland, T. S. (1954). An empirical investigation of self-attitudes. American Sociological Review, 19, 68–76.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Lilienfeld, S. O., Wood, J. M., & Garb, H. N. (2000). The scientific status of projective techniques. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 1, 27–66.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  24. Loevinger, J. (1979). Construct validity of the sentence completion test of Ego development. Applied Psychological Measurement, 3, 281–311.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Loevinger, J. (1985). Revision of the sentence completion test for ego development. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 48, 420–427.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  26. Neese, R. (1990). The evolutionary functions of repression and the ego defenses. Journal of the American Academy of Psychoanalysis, 18, 260–285.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Oberholzer, E. (1968). Rorschach—The man and the test. Journal of Projective Techniques and Personality Assessment, 32(6), 502–508.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  28. Richardson, G. B., Ching-Chen, C., Chia-Liang, D., Brubaker, M. D., & Nedelec, J. L. (2017). On the psychometric study of human life history strategies: State of the science and evidence of two independent dimensions. Evolutionary Psychology, 15, 1–12. Scholar
  29. Roff, D. A. (2002). Life history evolution. Sunderland Massachusetts: Sinauer Associates.Google Scholar
  30. Rorschach, H. (1924). The application of the interpretation of form to psychoanalysis. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 60(4), 359–379.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Saucier, G. (1994). Mini-Markers: A brief version of Goldberg’s unipolar Big-Five markers. Journal of Personality Assessment, 63, 506–516.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  32. Schmidt, F. L., & Hunter, J. E. (1996). Measurement error in psychological research: Lessons from 26 research scenarios. Psychological Methods, 1, 199–223.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Scott-Phillips, T. C., Dickins, T. E., & West, S. A. (2011). Evolutionary theory and the ultimate–proximate distinction in the human behavioral sciences. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 6, 38–47.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  34. Sherman, R. A., Figueredo, A. J., & Funder, D. C. (2013). The behavioral correlates of overall and distinctive life history strategy from the perspectives of self and others. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 105, 873–888.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  35. Stearns, S. C. (1992). The evolution of life histories (Vol. 249). Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  36. Trivers, R. (1991). Deceit and self-deception: The relationship between communication and consciousness. In M. Robinson & T. L. Tiger (Eds.), Man and beast revisited, (pp. 175–191). Smithsonian Press.Google Scholar
  37. Trivers, R. (2000). The elements of a scientific theory of self-deception. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 907, 114–131.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  38. Von Hippel, W., & Trivers, R. (2011). The evolution and psychology of self-deception. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 34, 1–56.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Westenberg, P. M., & Block, J. (1993). Ego development and individual differences in personality. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 65, 792–800.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  40. Wilson, E. O. (1999). Consilience: The unity of knowledge. New York: Vintage.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyWestern Illinois UniversityMacombUSA
  2. 2.College of Saint ElizabethMorristownUSA
  3. 3.University of ArizonaTucsonUSA

Personalised recommendations