Inkblots Biography and History of Hermann Rorschach Part 1

About the mental inkblot tests developed by Hermann Rorschach, biography and history of the psychologist's tool.


When he was in high school, the inventor of the world-famous Rorschach inkblot test was called Kleck, or "inkblot," by his chums. Like many other youngsters in his native Switzerland, Rorschach enjoyed Klecksography, the making of fanciful inkblot "pictures." Unlike the other youngsters, Rorschach would make inkblots his life's work.

An art teacher, like his father, Rorschach showed great talent at painting and drawing conventional pictures. When it was time for him to graduate from high school, he could not decide between a career in art and one in science. He wrote a letter to the famous German biologist Ernst Haeckel to ask his advice. Predictably, the scientist suggested science, and Rorschach enrolled in medical school at the University of Zurich.

It was an exhilarating time to be studying science, particularly in Europe and particularly in the field of medicine. A Viennese physician, Sigmund Freud, had delved into the subconscious mind, and his findings about the human personality caused much traditional science--and morality--to be questioned. Rorschach was also fortunate in having the eminent psychiatrist Eugen Bleuler for a teacher. Bleuler had taught another doctor who was making a name for himself in Zurich, Carl Jung. All three men greatly influenced Rorschach.

The excitement in intellectual circles over psychoanalysis constantly reminded Rorschach of his childhood inkblots. Why, he wondered, might two people see entirely different things in the same inkblot? While still a medical student, he began showing inkblots to school children and analyzing their reactions. He was aided in these first tests by a friend he had played Klecksography with in high school, who had become an art teacher. The two men wanted to know if gifted students fantasized more in their interpretations of inkblots than average students. Unfortunately, the results of these early tests and the inkblots used have been lost.

Rorschach was intrigued by Freud's work in interpreting dreams, but a dream he himself had had left him puzzled. The night after he witnessed his first autopsy, Rorschach dreamed that he had died and his body was being autopsied. Although he was dead in his dream, he could see and feel what was happening as the presiding physician sliced through his brain. The dream helped convince Rorschach that there was a strong tie between perception and the unconscious. He chose the symbolism of hallucinations as the topic for his doctoral dissertation.

After he received his M.D. in 1912, Rorschach worked briefly in Russia and then returned to work in mental hospitals in Zurich. He stepped up his inkblot research, testing 300 mental patients and 100 "normal" persons. In 1921 his now famous work Psychodiagnostics, which set forth his methods of using inkblots to probe the unconscious, was published.

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