You have heard of the Rorschach test. Mostly, you have heard jokes about it…or made jokes about it. So, what makes the Rorschach test so funny? More than likely, the deep derision between the camps who swear by it and the people who think it is utter nonsense. Which group do you claim?
In 1921, Hermann Rorschach published Psychodiagnostik, which was the basis for his inkblot test. Based on principles which stretched back to Leonardi da Vinci and Sandro Botticelli, Rorschach picked ten inkblots which patients were to observe.
Complicated algorithms, scoring and psychologist observation are used to interpret the actions and answers of the patient to diagnose thought disorder, primarily in those who are unwilling to discuss their thought processes. Rorschach died the year following the book without fully disclosing the entire process or silencing then critics who felt his four years of testing 300 patients and 100 control subjects was insufficient to have a fully developed system.
Psychodiagnostik was republished by Hans Huber in 1927, including a paper Rorschach had not published before his death. The Rorschach test would be used for the next 15 years without large resistance.
The late 1950s and ’60s saw the Rorschach test fall out of favor among psychologists for myriad reasons. The most prominent was the subjective nature of scoring the test. Psychologists testing the same patient would come up with wildly varying scores.
With more than a handful of ways to score the test, Dr. John Exner studied them all and compiled an exhaustive plan to standardize the test. In 1969, he published The Rorschach: A Comprehensive System (CS). Exner’s system of scoring has produced far more consistent results from psychologists than the original scoring model from Psychodiagnostik.
Exner’s books on the Rorschach extend through 2005, the year before his death, and cover hundreds of thousands of Rorschach tests in various settings with adolescents, teens, adults and children. These included a revisiting of the original norms to account for societal changes between his 1960’s research and the turn of the century.
The ten cards, often called plates, are presented to the patient in a specific order. The psychologist records reactions and responses, including, but not limited to:
- Whether patient turns or tilts the plate
- Time before response
- Content of response
- Popularity vs. originality of response
- Reaction to color and white space
- Semantics in responding
- Body language
- Sounds patient makes
- Number of responses
- Questions asked
Many psychologists video or audio tape test sessions to measure time for responses later with more accuracy. This allows for more detail to be recorded prior to scoring.
Over the years, two major issues have arisen about the Rorschach test. The first is the secrecy surrounding the plates and the scoring. Since the test has outlived its copyright in both Switzerland and the United States, the plates and the book are both public domain. Some psychologists claim patients can influence their answers by being exposed to the materials prior to the test.
The second is a cry the test is outdated. Despite vocal opposition to the test, 80% of psychology schools still teach the Rorschach test as a diagnostic tool, although it is not considered to be definitive without other testing and observation. In the end, even dissenters recognize the test’s validity in areas such as schizophrenia, dependency, anxiety, hostility, intelligence and thought disorders.
Exner’s rehabilitation of the scoring model made the test more reliable. Its major stumbling block was its North American basis. There are influences which are interpreted in the CS which are not weighted the same in other cultures. For example, a response about the texture of the plate has meaning in the CS, but is not evidenced in Europe or the Far East.
In 2007, a group of five leading international Rorschach researchers introduced a composite based on international norms, which they propose should replace the original norms of 600 and 450 test subjects compiled by Exner. By 2009, at the European Rorschach Association meeting, these five announced plans to initiate a new system based on the international norms to replace the CS.
It is undecided as to whether this is the best approach. Japan and Argentina have adjusted their results to the CS to reflect their cultural differences without changing the methodology. The new international system seeks to replace the methodology by adhering to international norms rather than more specific norms set by culture.
The only question asked when you are handed a Rorschach inkblot is What do you see? You have already see Plate V. Below are Plate III and Plate X. They have the widest variance for culture.
Despite the popularity of the Rorschach test, it is not available as a diagnostic tool online. All Rorschach tests online are parodies and should not be taken as clinical results or definitive of any psychological or psychiatric diagnosis. Rorschach tests should only be taken with a licensed practitioner.
Have you ever taken a Rorschach test? What do you see in these three Rorschach inkblots? Do you think the Rorschach test is reliable?
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(c) Ann Marie Dwyer 2012
Inkblot images are public domain via Wikipedia.
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