The way in which a person draws three circles on a piece of blank paper can reveal much about his subconscious attitude toward life, says a New Orleans psychologist.

Frederick Koenig, a professor of social psychology at Tulane University, says he has administered this test "thousands of times over the past 17 years" and found it to be a simple way to gain insight into anyone's personality.

"I've used this easy test over and over again in research, as a demonstration to my classes, and in lectures before large conventions," says Koenig. "People never fail to be astounded, both with its simplicity and its accuracy."

Taking this test requires only a few minutes, a sheet of paper and something to write with.

Begin by drawing three circles -- one to represent the past, one to represent the present, and one to represent the future.

These circles may be of any size and arranged in any way, but be sure to either label them appropriately or remember which circle is which.

To try this test, draw the circles now -- before reading any further.

Two psychological principles are involved in the test, says Koenig -- the size of the circles and their relationship to one another.

"We know that things that are drawn larger by people are seen by them as being more important," he explains. "When a child is asked to draw a picture of his family, for instance, the figure that is drawn larger is seen as the more important member of the family.

"The other aspect of this type of analysis is the relationship of the objects you have drawn to each other. Things placed at a distance from each other do not seem to be related, while objects placed close together suggest a stronger relationship between them."

According to Koenig, by drawing (and labeling) the three circles, subconscious attitudes toward time are represented on a piece of paper. Circles are used, he says, only because they happen to be the easiest form to draw -- much easier than squares, for instance.

A person's attitude toward life is usually oriented either toward the past, present or future, he says. A person might, however, see these time periods as being basically the same.

"Your views on life can be seen both in the size of the circles you have drawn and in their position relative to each other," Koenig says.

"If, for example, your circles are separated from each other, then you tend to view the past, present and future as being separate.

"On the other hand, if you see your circles as overlapping, then you see the stages of your life as being continuous. Here, you believe that what you did in the past, or what you will do today, will impact on what you do tomorrow.

"The person who views his life as such a continuous process is a person who, as a rule, has control over his destiny.

"If you are someone who lacks such control -- lives life one day at a time, so to speak -- then you are apt to see the past, present and future as being distinct periods which are unrelated to each other."

Now, back to interpreting the three-circle test:

If the three circles are drawn nearly equal in size and not touching, Koenig suggests that the drawer is "a reasonably stable person with an easy-going approach to life.

"You're flexible rather than rigid. You don't have any big, important goals for the future and you don't suffer regrets or guilt over incidents of your past. You're prone to take each day as it comes, to accept people at face value and to rarely hold grudges."

If the circle drawn to represent the past is the largest, "your family and background are tremendously important to you. You're a reflective person who values privacy and learns from past mistakes."

If the circle drawn to represent the present is the largest, the person tends "to lead a busy life. You rarely have time to do everything you'd like to do. You enjoy today and don't believe in postponing pleasures until tomorrow."

If the circle drawn to represent the future is the largest, "you're an optimist who believes things will get better for you as time passes. You're willing to postpone pleasures."

If the smallest circle represents the present, the person "tends to be an intellectual and technical thinking person. You're apt to let your head rule your heart. You're inquisitive, a culture lover and probably a heavy reader."

If the smallest circle represents the past, "you're apt to be a 'self-made person.' You've done well. You're content with your condition today and confident about the future. If you're a woman, you're probably happily married."

If three circles have been drawn so that they're all on top of each other -- the three circles appearing as one -- "you're a rare exception. You feel time has come to a standstill for you. You may well have experienced a recent personal tragedy."

Just as there are a number of personality types, there are trends in the kinds of circles that people draw.

"The biggest percentage of people are definitely present-oriented, so that the most common response on this test is for the circles all to be of the same size," Koenig says.

"I have found that about half of all college students see time as being continuous, that is, their circles overlap.

"From early in life, they have been preparing themselves for the future by studying hard, reading, asking questions. Many times, they have gotten these traits from their parents.

"On the other hand, when I interviewed 200 people in the general population in New Orleans, less than 10 percent felt that time has overlapped for them, that their past experiences had much impact on the present, or that what they were doing today would dramatically affect their lives in the future.

"In retirement home populations, I found that old people are, not surprisingly, more present- than future-oriented because what they are most preoccupied with is merely getting through the day.

"Very few people are past-oriented. You do find this kind of person -- but not often -- among the aged."