Understanding The Rorschach Inkblot Test


What is the Rorschach Inkblot Test?


The Rorschach inkblot test has become a part of our culture. It shows up in movies and on television as a shorthand representation of psychology and you can even take pop culture version of the test on the Internet. Although, I wouldn’t have a great deal of confidence in the results.


The Rorschach Inkblot Test is a projective psychological test. This means that the patient is enticed to project their personality through his or her answers. The purpose is to indirectly reveal hidden mental processes and mental conditions.


A History of Rorschach Test:

The test is named after Hermann Rorschach, who created the test in 1921. Where he got the idea isn’t exactly clear, but he probably got it from a popular game at the time called Blotto, which was a mental association game involving inkblots on cards. From such humble beginnings do psychology tests evolve. It’s also possible that one of his teachers, Konrad Gehring, may have suggested the idea to him although no one is quite sure. We do know that, in working with schizophrenic patients, Rorschach noticed that they responded very differently to the Blotto cards than ordinary people. However, it wasn’t until years later, when he was established in his own practice, that he began to systematically study the relationship between Blotto cards and mental disorders. His studies lasted from 1918 to 1921 and he collected considerable data from 405 subject, 117 of which were not patients and used as a control group.


How the Rorschach Test is Administered:


The Rorschach test is intended to act as a problem solving puzzle that reveals psychological traits of the individual taking it. The idea is that the patient’s answers expose elements of his or her personality.


A person is shown a card with an inkblot on it and asked, “What might this be?” The person’s answers are recorded precisely and later scored.

The inkblots can help the researcher discover things about a patient’s life as the patient fills in the blanks of the inkblot with his own imagination and this imagination is modified by experience, the circumstances under which he is living and, of course, by his mental condition.

A person goes through three phases when viewing each card.

Phase 1 is observation and classification of the stimulus. The individual’s attempt to give meaning to the inkblot causes a number of possible responses to enter his or her mind and allegedly causes these responses to gain or loose ranking in the person’s mind as the individual tries to figure out what the inkblot represents or resembles. This ranking is then modified in phase 2.

In phase 2, the person throws away low ranking answers and those answers that he or she thinks are inappropriate. Final selection of an answer is made from the remaining options.

Phase 3 is when the person responds to the question with the answer selected.

Once the person has gone through 10 inkblots one by one and stated what he or she saw in those inkblots. The psychologist will then take the person through the same inkblots again, asking them to help the psychologist see what they saw in the inkblots. The psychologist will go into some detail to understand what the person is describing. This includes going into as much detail as possible to clearly understand where a person has seen various aspects in each inkblot.

How the Rorschach is scored:


The method of scoring the answers has evolved considerably over the years. At one point there were five different scoring systems. This made it difficult for researches to study test results in a meaningful way and the fact that there were five separate scoring systems caused considerable confusion. It got so confusing that John E. Exner Jr. published a comparison of these systems entitled The Rorschach Systems and concluded that the five systems were so different that there was, in effect, five different tests. This motivated him to develop a comprehensive and more rational scoring system that would include what was best from each system. Research into a new scoring system began in 1968. After considerable work, Exner’s first edition of The Rorschach: a Comprehensive System was published in 1973. This has now become the only scoring system in use.

Ironically, Rorschach himself never intended that his test should be used for projective analysis. And he really didn’t believe that it could be used for projective measurements. His intention was to develop the test that can be used to produce profiles of people with mental disorders, such as schizophrenia.

Yet, the Rorschach Inkblot Test is now a major tool in projective measurement. If you stop and think about it, the design of the test, where people project meaning into what is in reality meaningless, makes the Rorschach Inkblot Test a very good tool for projective measurement. It is also a window into the person’s state of mind. If a person only responds to the shape of the inkblot, then there is very little projection occurring. If, on the other hand, the person starts embellishing their answers or adding more information, it is likely that projection is occurring. The individual is moving beyond the inkblot itself. This means that the person is telling the psychologist something about themselves.

The basic concept is that a person unknowingly “projects” his thinking processes outward by evaluating the inkblots. A trained psychologist can then evaluate these processes. There are a number of criteria involved in scoring, including not just form (what image the inkblot takes in the imagination), but also movement, is the image moving an if so how. It also takes in the patient’s comments on color, shading and dimension. Part of the scoring system even takes into account blends when the person responds that the inkblot looks like multiple objects.

The Rorschach is not intended to give detailed insight into a person’s mental condition, although it can furnish some details. Its purpose is to help the psychologist to establish a predictive framework with regard to the individual and to provide a basic understanding of, or at least clues to, the person’s mental condition. The Rorschach Inkblot Test provides a scientifically sound means of projective testing that has evolved for over eighty years and is supported by forty years of research. The simplicity of the test itself, merely asking people what they see in a set of inkblots, coupled with a detailed scoring method can help reveal more than the patients themselves are aware of, including hidden motivations, behaviors and issues the person is struggling with.

Of course the patient can completely confound the psychologist and ruin the test by simply being literal. When asked, “What might this be?” The answer is always the same; “It’s an ink smudge on a piece of cardboard.” And the same for every other card. End of test.

Just kidding.

Well, after all, that’s what it is. Isn’t it?