How the Rorschach Works
A person is shown an inkblot printed on a card and asked, “What might this be?” The responses are usually recorded verbatim (nowadays often with a recording device), because they will be later scored by the psychologist.
Exner broke down how a person responds to an inkblot into three primary phases. In phase 1, the person looks at the card while their brain encodes the stimulus (inkblot) and all its parts. They then classify the stimulus and its parts and an informal rank ordering occurs in the brain of potential responses. In phase 2, the person discards potential answers that aren’t ranked well, and censor other responses they think may be inappropriate. In phase 3, they select some of the remaining responses by reason of traits, styles, or other influences.
If a person responds to common contours of a blot, Exner theorized there was little projection going on. However, when a person starts to embellish on their answer or adding more information than they originally provided, it can be a sign that projection is now occurring. That is, the person is telling the examiner something about themselves or their lives, because they are going well beyond the features of the inkblot itself.
Once a person cycles through the 10 inkblots once and tells the psychologist what they saw in each inkblot, the psychologist will then take the person through each inkblot again, asking the person who is taking the test to help the psychologist see what they saw in their original responses. This is where the psychologist will get into some detail to clearly understand what and where a person has seen various aspects in each inkblot.
The Scoring of the Rorschach
The scoring of the Rorschach inkblot test is complex and requires extensive training and experience in administering the test. Only psychologists are properly trained and have the experience necessary to correctly interpret test results. Therefore any generic “inkblot test” you may take online or administered by another professional may be of little use or validity.
The Exner scoring system examines every aspect of the response — from how much of the inkblot is used, to what story is told about the response (if any), to the level of detail and type of content is offered about the inkblot. Scoring begins by examining the developmental quality of the response — that is, how well synthesized, ordinary, vague or arbitrary the response is.
The core of scoring revolves around coding the response according to all of the blot features that have contributed to the formation of the response. The following characteristics are coded:
- Movement – when any movement occurred in the response
- Chromatic Color – when color is used in the response
- Achromatic Color – when black, white or grays are used in the response
- Shading-texture – when texture is used in the response
- Shading-dimension – when dimension is used in the response with reference to shading
- Shading-diffuse – when shading is used in the response
- Form dimension – when dimension is used in the response without reference to shading
- Pairs and reflections – when a pair or reflection is used in the response
Because many people respond to the inkblots in a complicated, detailed way, the scoring system uses the concept of “blends” to account for complex answers that take into account multiple objects or the way used to describe the object. Organizational activity of the response assesses how well-organized the response is. Last, form quality is assessed — that is, how well the response fits the inkblot (according to how the person taking the test describes it). If an inkblot looks like a bear, and a person describes it as a bear, this might take an “ordinary” form quality — perfectly acceptable, but not especially creative or imaginative.
There are, of course, many popular responses for inkblots that look like some object or creature in real life. The Exner scoring system takes this into account by providing extensive tables for each card about common responses and how they might be coded.
Once each card’s responses is properly coded by a psychologist, an interpretative report is formulated based upon the responses’ scoring. The interpretative report seeks to integrate the findings from across all the responses on the test, so that one outlying response is not likely to impact the overall test’s findings.
The psychologist will first examine the validity of the test, stress tolerance and the amount of resources that available to the individual being examined versus the demands being made upon the individual at this time.
Next, the psychologist will examine the cognitive operations of the individual, their perceptual accuracy, flexibility of ideas and attitudes, their ability to temper and control their emotions, goal orientation, self-concept and interest and relationships with others. There are also a number of special indices that are used less often to determine suicidal ideation, depression, schizophrenia and other concerns. Usually these things can be more quickly assessed through a clinical interview, but might help to flesh out areas of concern in an individual where some questions remain.
The Rorschach is not some magical insight into a person’s soul. What it is is an empirically-sound, projective testing measure that has been backed up with nearly four decades of modern research (on top of the existing four decades since the test’s publication in 1921). Through asking people to express what they see in a simple set of ten inkblots, people can often show a little bit more of themselves than their conscious selves may have intended — leading to better insights into the underlying motivations of the person’s current issues and behaviors.