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Is Rorschach Inkblot Test Outdated?

A well-established psychological test is coming under the gun as a new research effort reviews the test’s reliability and validity.

The Rorschach Inkblot Test involves a viewer looking at ten inkblots, one at a time, and describing what they see. A psychologist interprets the findings, based upon research conducted on what others have described in each inkblot. In some cases, these responses have been systematized into a way to analyze others’ responses.

The rationale behind this test is that certain aspects of the subject’s personality will be exposed as they are interpreting the images, allowing for the possible diagnosis of various psychological disorders.

The new review determined that despite its popularity, the Rorschach may not be the best diagnostic tool and that practitioners need to be cautious in how they use this technique and interpret their results.

The Rorschach Inkblot Test was developed in the 1920s, but was already mired in controversy within 30 years. Critics argued that it was not always administered in a standardized way and evidence for its reliability was lacking.

However, the Rorschach was revived in the 1970s with the publication of John Exner’s Comprehensive System (CS), which detailed standards and norms for analyzing results. The CS was credited with providing a concrete, scientific basis for the Rorschach test and it became widely used in clinical and forensic settings.

Proponents of the Exner Comprehensive System claimed that it also provided a wealth of information for non-patient adults and children.

However, critics of this system argue that the norms established by CS are outdated and based on small sample sizes. Furthermore, the CS norms are not representative of the population and actually classify a portion of normal subjects as having pathological tendencies.

Many studies have also called into question the scoring reliability of the CS; that is, a number of experiments have shown that two practitioners will score one subject very differently using the CS method.

The authors observe that “disagreements can have particularly serious implications if the test results are used to reach important clinical or legal recommendations.”

In addition, some studies suggest that there may be a cultural bias associated with the CS. Research has shown that Blacks, Hispanics, and Native Americans score differently on a number of variables in the CS compared to Caucasians.

The authors note that “similar discrepancies have been reported for CS scores in Central and South American countries as well as in several European countries.” These findings suggest that any CS data acquired from various racial and cultural groups should be interpreted with extreme caution.

The authors acknowledge that not all the news concerning the Rorschach inkblot test is bad. There is some evidence that this tool may be useful in identifying patients with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and borderline personality disorder. However, it is an onerous and time-intensive exercise for most patients and psychologists to undertake, when far easier methods exist to make such diagnoses.

The researchers also note that responses given in the administration of the Rorschach test have not been shown to be related to Major Depressive Disorder, Antisocial Personality Disorders, or Post-traumatic Stress Disorder.

Overall, the authors suggest that due to the inconsistent literature on the Rorschach Inkblot Test and other related psychological tools, practitioners should be very selective when they use these assessments and use them in ways which have strong empirical support. They recommended it not be regularly used in psychological or other assessment of patients.

“Whenever possible,” the authors conclude, “forensic and clinical evaluations should be based on more dependable assessment techniques, such as structured psychiatric interviews and well-validated self-report indexes.”

The most recent study was published in Psychological Science in the Public Interest.

Source: Association for Psychological Science

Is Rorschach Inkblot Test Outdated?

This article has been updated from the original version, which was originally published here on July 31, 2009.

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2019). Is Rorschach Inkblot Test Outdated?. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 30, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 3 May 2019 (Originally: 31 Jul 2017)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 3 May 2019
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