Rorschach test  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

The Rorschach test (also known as the Rorschach inkblot test, the Rorschach technique, or simply the inkblot test) is a psychological test in which subjects' perceptions of inkblots are recorded and then analyzed using psychological interpretation, complex algorithms, or both. Some psychologists use this test to examine a person's personality characteristics and emotional functioning. It has been employed to detect underlying thought disorder, especially in cases where patients are reluctant to describe their thinking processes openly. The test is named after its creator, Swiss psychologist Hermann Rorschach.

In the 1960s, the Rorschach was the most widely used projective test. In a national survey in the U.S., the Rorschach was ranked eighth among psychological tests used in outpatient mental health facilities. It is the second most widely used test by members of the Society for Personality Assessment, and it is requested by psychiatrists in 25% of forensic assessment cases, usually in a battery of tests that often include the MMPI-2 and the MCMI-III. In surveys, the use of Rorschach ranges from a low of 20% by correctional psychologists to a high of 80% by clinical psychologists engaged in assessment services, and 80% of psychology graduate programs surveyed teach it.

Although the Exner Scoring System (developed since the 1960s) claims to have addressed and often refuted many criticisms of the original testing system with an extensive body of research, some researchers continue to raise questions. The areas of dispute include the objectivity of testers, inter-rater reliability, the verifiability and general validity of the test, bias of the test's pathology scales towards greater numbers of responses, the limited number of psychological conditions which it accurately diagnoses, the inability to replicate the test's norms, its use in court-ordered evaluations, and the proliferation of the ten inkblot images, potentially invalidating the test for those who have been exposed to them.

The Rorschach images are in the public domain may be used by anyone for any purpose. William Poundstone was, perhaps, first to make them public in his 1983 book Big Secrets, where he also described the method of administering the test.


Using interpretation of "ambiguous designs" to assess an individual's personality is an idea that goes back to Leonardo da Vinci's famous 'sponge passage' in a Treatise on Painting. Interpretation of inkblots was central to a game from the late 19th century. Rorschach's, however, was the first systematic approach of this kind.

It has been suggested that Rorschach's use of inkblots may have been inspired by German doctor Justinus Kerner who, in 1857, had published a popular book of poems, each of which was inspired by an accidental inkblot. French psychologist Alfred Binet had also experimented with inkblots as a creativity test, and, after the turn of the century, psychological experiments where inkblots were utilized multiplied, with aims such as studying imagination and consciousness.

After studying 300 mental patients and 100 control subjects, in 1921 Rorschach wrote his book Psychodiagnostik, which was to form the basis of the inkblot test (after experimenting with several hundred inkblots, he selected a set of ten for their diagnostic value), but he died the following year. Although he had served as Vice President of the Swiss Psychoanalytic Society, Rorschach had difficulty in publishing the book and it attracted little attention when it first appeared.

In 1927, the newly-founded Hans Huber publishing house purchased Rorschach's book Psychodiagnostik from the inventory of Ernst Bircher.

Huber has remained the publisher of the test and related book, with Rorschach a registered trademark of Swiss publisher Verlag Hans Huber, Hogrefe AG. The work has been described as "a densely written piece couched in dry, scientific terminology".

After Rorschach's death, the original test scoring system was improved by Samuel Beck, Bruno Klopfer and others. John E. Exner summarized some of these later developments in the comprehensive system, at the same time trying to make the scoring more statistically rigorous. Some systems are based on the psychoanalytic concept of object relations. The Exner system remains very popular in the United States, while in Europe other methods sometimes dominate, such as that described in the textbook by Evald Bohm, which is closer to the original Rorschach system and rooted more deeply in the original psychoanalysis principles.

See also

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