The Rorschach Inkblot Test is a projective psychological test consisting of 10 inkblots printed on cards (five in black and white, five in color) created in 1921 with the publication of Psychodiagnostik by Hermann Rorschach. During the 1940s and 1950s, the test was synonymous with clinical psychology. Throughout much of the 20th century, the Rorschach inkblot test was a commonly used and interpreted psychological test. In surveys in 1947 (Louttit and Browne) and 1961 (Sundberg), for instance, it was the fourth and first, respectively, most frequently used psychological test.
Despite its widespread use, it has also been the center of much controversy. It has often proven to be difficult for researchers to study the test and its results in any systematic manner, and the use of multiple kinds of scoring systems for the responses given to each inkblot has led to some confusion.
History of the Rorschach
Hermann Rorschach did not make it clear where he got the idea from the test. However, like most children of his time, he often played the popular game called Blotto (Klecksographie), which involved creating poem-like associations or playing charades with inkblots. The inkblots could be purchased easily in many stores at the time. It is also thought that a close personal friend and teacher, Konrad Gehring, may have also suggested the use of inkblots as a psychological tool.
When Eugen Bleuler coined the term schizophrenia in 1911, Rorschach took interest and wrote his dissertation about hallucinations (Bleuler was Rorschach’s dissertation chairperson). In his work on schizophrenia patients, Rorschach inadvertently discovered that they responded quite differently to the Blotto game than others. He made a brief report of this finding to a local psychiatric society, but nothing more came of it at the time. It wasn’t until he was established in his psychiatric practice in Russia’s Krombach hospital in Herisau in 1917 that he became interested in systematically studying the Blotto game.
Rorschach used about 40 inkblots in his original studies in 1918 through 1921, but he would administer only about 15 of them regularly to his patients. Ultimately he collected data from 405 subjects (117 non-patients which he used as his control group). His scoring method minimized the importance of content, instead focusing on how to classify responses by their different characteristics. He did this using a set of codes — now called scores — to determine if the response was talking about the whole inkblot (W), for instance, a large detail (D), or a smaller detail. F was used to score for form of the inkblot, and C was used to score whether the response included color.
In 1919 and 1920, he tried to find a publisher for his findings and the 15 inkblot cards he regularly used. However, every published balked at publishing all 15 inkblots because of printing costs. Finally in 1921, he found a publisher — the House of Bircher — willing to publish his inkblots, but only 10 of them. Rorschach reworked his manuscript to include only 10 of the 15 inkblots he most commonly used. (You can review the 10 Rorschach inkblots on Wikipedia; the rest of the Wikipedia entry on the Rorschach is full of significant factual errors.)
The printer, alas, was not very good at being true to the original inkblots. Rorschach’s original inkblots had no shading to them — they were all solid colors. The printer’s reproduction of them added shading. Rorschach reportedly was actually quite pleased with the introduction of this new addition to his inkblots. After publishing his monograph with the inkblots, entitled a Form Interpretation Test, he died in 1922 after being admitted to a hospital for abdominal pains. Rorschach was only 37 years old and had been formally working on his inkblot test just four years.
The Rorschach Scoring Systems
Prior to the 1970s, there were five primary scoring systems for how people responded to the inkblots. They were dominated by two — the Beck and the Klopfer systems. Three other that were used less often were the Hertz, Piotrowski and the Rapaport-Schafer systems. In 1969, John E. Exner, Jr. published the first comparison of these five systems entitled The Rorschach Systems.
The findings of Exner’s ground-breaking analysis were that there actually weren’t five scoring systems for the Rorschach. He concluded that the five systems differed so dramatically and significantly, it was as if five uniquely different Rorschach tests had been created. It was time to go back to the drawing board.
Given Exner’s disturbing findings, he decided to undertake the creation of a new, comprehensive Rorschach scoring system that would take into account the best components of these five existing systems, combined with extensive empirical research on each component. A foundation was established in 1968 and the significant research began into creating a new scoring system for the Rorschach. The result was that in 1973, Exner published the first edition of The Rorschach: A Comprehensive System. In it, he laid out the new scoring system that would become the new gold standard (and the only scoring system now taught).
What the Rorschach Measures
The Rorschach Inkblot test was not originally intended to be a projective measure of personality. Instead, it was meant to produce a profile of people with schizophrenia (or other mental disorders) based upon score frequencies. Rorschach himself was skeptical of his test being used as a projective measure.
The Rorschach is, at its most basic level, a problem-solving task that provides a picture of the psychology of the person taking it, and some level of understanding the person’s past and future behavior. Imagination is involved most often in the embellishment of a response, but the basic process of the task has little to do with imagination or creativity.