Wikipedia vs RorschachAs we noted here nearly a year ago, the Rorschach Inkblot Test images have been made available on Wikipedia. This is not a big deal, since it’s what’s called a projective test, meaning that the images themselves are not important — it’s what you see in the images that can be interesting to a psychologist.

Yesterday, The New York Times noted the controversy, which has a new twist. A psychologist has posted the most common responses to each of the 10 cards in Wikipedia entry about the Rorschach Inkblot Test. This includes such astonishing revelations that most people see 2 humans in cards 2 and 3. Astonishing, I tell you.

Here’s why there’s a controversy, according to the article:

“The more test materials are promulgated widely, the more possibility there is to game it,” said Bruce L. Smith, a psychologist and president of the International Society of the Rorschach and Projective Methods, who has posted under the user name SPAdoc. He quickly added that he did not mean that a coached subject could fool the person giving the test into making the wrong diagnosis, but rather “render the results meaningless.”

To psychologists, to render the Rorschach test meaningless would be a particularly painful development because there has been so much research conducted — tens of thousands of papers, by Dr. Smith’s estimate — to try to link a patient’s responses to certain psychological conditions. Yes, new inkblots could be used, these advocates concede, but those blots would not have had the research — “the normative data,” in the language of researchers — that allows the answers to be put into a larger context.

And, more fundamentally, the psychologists object whenever diagnostic tools fall into the hands of amateurs who haven’t been trained to administer them. “Our ethics code that governs the behavior of psychologists talks about maintaining test security,” Steve J. Breckler, the executive director for science at the American Psychological Association, said in an interview. “We wouldn’t be in favor of putting the plates out where anyone can get hold of them.”

Smith’s point is potentially true, for an objective test, but has never been shown to be true for a projective psychological instrument. Indeed, the reason projective tests are of themselves a bit controversial is because there is no “right” answer. There are horribly wrong answers, of course, but telling someone the most common answers certainly isn’t going to help anyone take this particular psychological test.

Smith overestimates the empirical literature supporting the use of the Rorschach. Alone, it is rarely used as a standalone psychological instrument. Only in a robust psychological battery of tests is it still commonly used nowadays. Even with the use of the Exner scoring system, its psychological validity is still sometimes questioned (although Weiner’s 2001 review article suggests the Rorschach has similar validity scores to the MMPI). And PsycINFO, the database of all research literature in psychology, shows only 9,301 references to Rorschach (and that’s just references, it doesn’t mean there’s 9,301 actual studies about the Rorschach Inkblot Test).

Of course, nowadays, test publishers can rely on the more modern copyright laws to limit information about a test and its scoring mechanisms. But still, anyone interested in learning more about the Rorschach is free and welcomed to purchase Exner’s The Rorschach, Basic Foundations and Principles of Interpretation Volume 1, the volume that describes precisely how the Rorschach is scored in modern psychological testing. (You can also pick up Graham’s excellent book about how the MMPI-2 is scored and interpreted.) If the scoring books are freely available, I’m not sure how the profession can suggest they can “protect” the psychological instruments they rely upon. What good is such protection when a person can learn all they need to learn about the test from a book they find in a bookstore (or check out of their local university library)?

Which brings me back to the article — this controversy is largely much ado about nothing. People who want to find a way to “game” psychological tests have always had ways to do so. There have always been, for as long as I’ve been online, websites that discuss — in some depth and detail — various psychological instruments, how and what they measure, and ways to try to make a person “look good” on them. Wikipedia simply makes it a bit simpler to do so, but it certainly doesn’t mean the end of psychological testing. Nor does it mean the end of the validity of most people’s results who take this test, even if they’ve seen the Rorschach cards online.

Read the full article: Has Wikipedia Created a Rorschach Cheat Sheet? Analyze That