Inkblots Biography and History of Hermann Rorschach Part 2

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


The Rorschach test consists of 10 cards, each containing one ornate inkblot. Five are in black and white and five are in color. The examiner shows the subject the cards one at a time and records the subject's responses. Subjects are asked to describe what they see in the blots or what they remind them of. They are then shown the cards a second time and asked to explain ambiguous responses and to point out the parts of the inkblots that prompted various reactions. The examiner also notes each subject's social behavior; for example, whether the subject feels challenged or intimidated by the test.

The test results are evaluated by four main criteria: (1) Location: Does the subject respond to the entire blot or specific details of the blot? (2) Quality: Does the subject react to the color, shade, or what he or she sees as movement in the blot? (3) Content: Does the subject perceive humans or animals, animate or inanimate objects? (4) Degree of conventionality: How do the responses compare statistically with the responses given by most people?

In the most general terms, subjects who see whole figures in Rorschach's blots are usually highly intelligent and ingenious. Noting small, individual details indicates an introverted personality and possible emotional conflicts. Numerous responses to color signify impulsiveness and possibly emotional instability. Noticing third-dimensional shading indicates anxiety. Seeing forms in motion means a vivid imagination, but seeing mostly animals is evidence of low intelligence. If most responses are determined by shape or form, it is a sign of normalcy and healthy emotional control.

Psychologists and psychiatrists in Europe and elsewhere quickly recognized the test as a valuable tool. With Rorschach's inkblots they could explore the private fantasy world of a patient without direct questioning and greatly reduce the time required for psychoanalysis. The test could quantify the theretofore purely qualitative approach to personality study. Repeated testing of a patient could check a patient's progress or determine the developmental growth of children. Recently social workers have used the inkblots to assess the severity of clients' emotional problems, and anthropologists have been able to learn how emotional makeup varies between cultures.

Apparently Rorschach never took his own test. If he had, the test might have revealed an aberration within the personality of its inventor. In less than a year after completing his brilliant treatise, Rorschach began to suffer severe abdominal pains. As a physician he must have known he had an infected appendix. Yet he did nothing. When he finally went to the hospital, the attending surgeon was astounded that Rorschach had let the ailment progress so far. Rorschach was operated on immediately, but he died the next morning of peritonitis. He was only 37 years old.

Today the accuracy of the Rorschach test is questioned by some psychologists, but it remains the most widely used projective test throughout the world. It would be hard to over-estimate its importance in clinical psychology and psychiatry. Freud discovered the hidden world of the unconscious; Hermann Rorschach provided a compass for quickly surveying that difficult terrain.

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