The Lüscher test is a projective evaluation technique which starts from the relationship between the preference or rejection of different colors and the expression of certain psychological states. It is a test widely used in different fields and which has given rise to different controversies due to the nature of its application and its methodological criteria.
Below we will see some of the theoretical foundations on which the Lüscher test is based, then explain the process of application and interpretation, and finally, present some of the criticisms that have been made.
Origins and theoretical foundations of the Lüscher test
In 1947, and after studying the relationship between color and different psychological diagnoses, Swiss psychotherapist Max Lüscher has created a first emotional and psychological assessment test based on the preference for certain colors and their relation to personality.
It is a projective test, that is to say an instrument for exploring the personality and the psyche used for diagnostic purposes in different fields such as clinical, professional, educational or forensic. Being projective, it is a test that seeks to explore psychic dimensions that cannot be accessed by other means (for example, through verbal language or observable behavior).
Generally speaking, Lüscher’s test is based on the idea that the serial choice of eight different colors can account for a particular emotional and psychosomatic state.
The relationship between colors and psychological needs
The Lüscher test starts from the relation of the theory of fundamental and complementary colors, with the fundamental needs and the needs which intervene indirectly in the psychological mechanisms.
In other words, he takes the psychology of colors to establish a relationship between psychological reactions and chromatic stimuli, Where it is assumed that each individual reacts psychologically to the presence of a particular color. Thus, chromatic stimulation can trigger reactions that speak of satisfaction, or dissatisfaction, of basic psychological needs.
The above is posed as a universal phenomenon and shared by all, whatever the cultural context, gender, ethnicity, language or other variables. It is also defended under the argument that all individuals share a nervous system which enables them to respond to chromatic stimulation, and with that, activate various psychological mechanisms.
Objective component and subjective component
Lüscher’s test takes into account two elements that link psychological states to the choice of certain colors. These elements are as follows:
- Colors have an objective meaning, that is, the same chromatic stimulation causes the same psychological reaction in all individuals.
- However, each person establishes a subjective attitude which can be either a preference or a rejection of the chromatic stimulus.
In other words, it starts by considering that everyone can perceive the different chromatic scales equally, as well as feel the same sensations through them. He therefore attributes an objective character to the experiential quality associated with each color.. For example, the color red would activate in all people an equally stimulating and exciting sensation, regardless of the variables external to the people themselves.
To the latter is added a subjective character, for he maintains that, by the same feeling of excitement that the color red causes, one person may prefer – and another may well reject it.
Thus, the Lüscher test considers that the choice of colors has a subjective character which it is not possible to faithfully convey through verbal language, but which can be analyzed by means of the apparently random choice of colors. This would allow you to understand how people really are, what they look like or how they would like to be seen.
Application and interpretation: what do the colors mean?
The procedure for applying the Lüscher test is simple. The person receives a handful of cards of different suits, and you are asked to choose the card you prefer. You are then asked to sort the rest of the cards according to your preferences.
Each card has a number on the reverse side, and the combination of colors and numbers allows for a process of interpretation that depends, on the one hand, on the psychological meaning that this test assigns to each color, and on the other hand., Depends the order in which the person placed the cards.
If the test application is based on a simple procedure, its interpretation is quite complex and delicate (as is generally the case with projective tests). Although this is not a sufficient condition, to perform the interpretation is necessary start by knowing the meaning that Lüscher attributes to the choice or rejection of different colors.
They are known as “Lüscher colors” because they are a range of colors that have a particular chromatic saturation, different from that found in everyday objects. Lüscher chose them from a hunger of 400 different color varieties, and the criterion for their selection was the impact this had on the people observed. This impact included both psychological and physiological responses. To structure your test, categorize them as follows.
1. Basic or fundamental colors
They represent the basic psychological needs of human beings. These are the colors blue, green, red and yellow. Generally speaking, blue is the color of the implication involved, so it represents the need for satisfaction and affection. Green represents attitude towards oneself and the need for assertiveness (self-defense). Red alludes to excitement and the need to actAnd finally, yellow represents projection (understood as the search for horizons and the reflection of an image) and the need to anticipate.
Sending pleasant perception reports in the presence of these colors is for Luscher an indicator of a balanced psychology without conflict or repression.
2. Complementary colors
These are the colors purple, coffee (brown), black and gray. Unlike basic or fundamental colors, the preference for complementary colors can be interpreted as an indicator of a stressful experience, or of a manipulative and negative attitude. Although they can also indicate some positive qualities depending on how they are placed. Also, the choice of these colors is associated with people who have experiences of low preference or rejection.
The purple color is representative of transformation, but is also an indicator of immaturity and instability. Coffee represents the sensory and the bodily, that is, it is directly connected to the body, but having little vitality, its exaggerated choice may indicate stress. Gray, on the other hand, indicates neutrality, indifference and isolation possible, but also prudence and good manners. Black is representative of resignation or abandonment and, to a maximum extent, can indicate protest and distress.
3. White color
Finally, the white color works like the contrasting color of the previous ones. However, it does not play a key role in the psychological and evaluative meanings of this test.
The interpretation of the test is not completed only by attributing a meaning to each color. As we have already said, Lüscher relates this meaning to the subjective experience of the person being assessed. In other words, the test results largely depend on the position in which the person placed the colored cards. For Lüscher, the latter takes into account the position and direction of individual behavior, which can be managerial, receptive, authoritarian or suggestible.
Such behavior can, in turn, be in a constant or variable position; which varies depending on how the link is established with the other subjects, objects and interests of the individual. Lüscher’s test interpretation procedure it is done on the basis of an application manual in which different combinations and positions of the colors with their respective meanings are included.
In methodological terms, by Seneiderman (2011) projective tests have value as a “bridge hypothesis”, because they make it possible to establish links between metapsychology and the clinic, as well as to explore dimensions of subjectivity, which otherwise would not be intelligible. Based on ambiguity and great freedom of response, these tests provide access to elements that are sometimes difficult to verbalize such as fantasies, conflicts, defenses, fears, etc.
However, as with other projective tests, Lüscher was assigned a “subjective” mode of interpretation, which means that his interpretation and results they largely depend on the personal criteria of each psychologist or specialist who applies it. In other words, it is concluded that this is a test which does not offer “objective” conclusions, which has attracted much criticism.
In the same vein, it is criticized for the impossibility of generalizing its results, for lack of standardizations meeting the methodological criteria of objectivity of traditional science. Criteria that support, for example, psychometric tests. In this sense, projective tests have a scientific status which has given rise to considerable controversy, in particular among specialists who consider this type of test to be “reactive” and which has at best been proposed to systematize quantitatively.
Thus, this test has been criticized both for the lack of criteria that can ensure both its reliability and the low possibility of reproducing its results. On another side, the ideas of functionality and pathology have also been criticized (And the possible reproduction of biases, prejudices or stigmas of various kinds), which theoretically support the interpretations of this test.
- Muñoz, L. (2000). Lüscher test I. Application and interpretation. Accessed August 14, 2018.Available from https://s3.amazonaws.com/academia.edu.documents/48525511/luscher_manual_curso__I.pdf?AWSAccessKeyId=AKIAIWOWYYGZ2Y53UL3A&Expires=1534242979&SignD&gPcnuel_3D_cnnn
- Sneiderman, S. (2011). Considerations on the reliability and validity of projective techniques. Subjectivity and cognitive processes. (15) 2: 93-110.
- Vives Gomila, M. (2006). Projective tests: Application to clinical diagnosis and treatment. Barcelona: University of Barcelona.