Rorschach Test: Definition, History & Interpretation

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  • 1:55 History
  • 3:25 Scoring and Interpretation
  • 4:33 Controversy
  • 5:21 Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Robin Harley

Robin has a PhD in health psychology. She has taught undergraduate and graduate psychology, health science, and health education.

The Rorschach test is a psychological test consisting of ten inkblots that a test taker is asked to interpret. In this lesson, we will discuss the test's history and how Exner's Comprehensive System became the standard for scoring and interpretation.

What Is the Rorschach Test?

Have you ever seen a movie or television show where a character is given a psychological examination? Often, the character is asked to look at a piece of paper with a dark blob on it and describe 'what they see.' This is a depiction of an actual psychological test called the Rorschach test.

Also known as the Rorschach inkblot test, the Rorschach test is a psychological test consisting of ambiguous inkblots, and the test taker is asked to provide his or her perceptions of these images. The test was designed to look for patterns of thought disorder in schizophrenia, but has evolved to include other areas, such as personality, intelligence and emotional disorders.

Most personality tests are objective in that they have standard methods of administration and scoring. In contrast, the Rorschach test is considered projective, because the test taker must project his or her thoughts and feelings onto ambiguous images. Interpretation falls within the realm of the tester's judgment. This has led to controversy among mental health professionals, and revisions have been made to make the test more objective, as we will discuss shortly.

So, how does a Rorschach test work? The test materials are simple, consisting of ten 24.6 x 17 cm cards with a symmetrical inkblot on each. Five inkblots are black and white, two are black, white and red, and three are pastel colors. The first phase of the test is free association, in which the test taker interprets each card. In the second phase, the tester will ask for elaboration on why the test taker saw certain things. Let's take a closer look at the test's origins and how it has evolved over time.

This is an example of a Rorschach inkblot. What do you see?
Rorschach Inkblot

History of the Rorschach Test

Hermann Rorschach, a Swiss psychiatrist, studied mental patients using hundreds of carefully designed inkblots. The patterns on the inkblots were meant to be ambiguous and not have an easily identifiable shape. He discovered that patients with schizophrenia perceived the inkblots much differently than other patients. After his experiments, he narrowed the inkblots down to a set of ten, and these formed the original inkblot test.

Rorschach created the test to aid in diagnosis of schizophrenia. He wrote the book Psychodiagnostik, which contained information on the test. He initially had difficulty finding interest in this work. He died the following year, and it wasn't until 1927 when a newly established publisher took on the work.

Samuel Beck and Bruno Klopfer revised the test to be used as a measure of personality in the late 1930s. In the 1960s, John E. Exner revised the original scoring system in order to make it more standardized and to improve its statistical validity. Exner's Comprehensive System of Scoring remains popular today in the U.S.

Although Rorschach only intended for the test to be used for diagnosing disordered thought in schizophrenia, the test evolved to include measurement of personality, intelligence and emotional disorders. Let's take a closer look at how Exner improved on the scoring and interpretation of the test.

Scoring and Interpretation

Exner found Rorschach's original sample of research participants and the test's scoring system to be outdated. He wanted to make the test more statistically sound, so he administered it to a non-patient sample of 450 people. This sample served as a comparison for test responses that might deviate from this group. He created a scoring system by writing codebooks and worksheets to help clinicians interpret results as consistently as possible.

Testers are trained to look at several things that a test taker might focus on. For instance, they look at whether the test taker focuses on the whole image or any particular parts of it. They pay attention to any names of common items a test taker might assign to an image, such as 'butterfly' or 'bat.' All responses are compared with those that are considered popular among test takers. It takes around three hours to administer and score the test. Despite this new system, many mental health professionals find fault with it. Let's take a closer look at some of these criticisms and how the test is used today.

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