Rorschach’s inkblot test

Ink blots forming mysterious symmetrical figures. It is the figures (or rather the non-figures) that are used in one of the most famous projective tests: the Rorschach test.

It is a method born in the first half of the 20th century, when psychoanalysis dominated Europe, and its use has become popular both in staff selection processes and even in the clinical field. But … what ideas is the Rorschach test based on? How is it used? Is it efficient and reliable?

To answer these questions, you have to start by meeting the person who invented the inkblot test: the Swiss psychoanalyst. Hermann Rorschach.

Who was Hermann Rorschach?

Hermann Rorschach was born in Zurich in 1884 and from an early age showed a great penchant for creating characters through the use of paint. After graduating in medicine, he began to specialize in psychiatry, and these studies brought him fully into the world of psychoanalysis, which at that time was the psychological mainstream that was becoming more and more popular in Europe.

This way, Rorschach familiarized himself with the concepts of free association and projection, Which at that time were used by Sigmund Freud and his followers in clinical practice. Rorschach was the first to use the term “psychodiagnosis” to refer to the interpretation of symptoms to discover mental disorders that interfere with the well-being of people.

But what Rorschach meant by psychodiagnosis was far from resembling a medical evaluation based on the observation of objective properties. For him, the diagnosis had to start from the interpretation of the way in which the patient’s unconscious manifests itself through their creations. More precisely, Rorschach he focused on the interpretation of works of art created by patients to try to understand how his mind works. This idea was the seed that then gave way to the creation of the inkblot-based Rorschach test.

The Rorschach is testing it

In 1921, Rorschach published a book called Psychodiagnosis. This monograph presented for the first time a psychological test based on the interpretation of ten maps in which symmetrical inkblots were visible. The funny thing about these leaves was that the property that defined the numbers in it was their total ambiguity.

The spots had no apparent meaning and, of course, Rorschach had taken great care to avoid his creations being interpreted clearly.

The test of the spots he had created he emphasized the total freedom to attribute meaning to these figures. It was a tool designed to be used in the diagnosis of psychological characteristics, but at the same time it avoided the possibility of measuring concrete and well-typed responses that would allow the results obtained by different people to be compared.

Rorschach wanted everyone to be able to give the answer they wanted, and the range of answer possibilities was endless, unlike in personality tests where you have to select one answer from several available answers. To understand the why of this particularity, it is necessary to understand the value given to interpretation from psychoanalysis.

interpret the spots

The idea on which Rorschach relied to propose-create a system of psychological evaluation was entirely linked to the Freudian concept of the unconscious.

The unconscious was, for Freud, an aspect of the mind that has been shaped by ancient traumas and uncontrollable desires. Hypothetically, this psychic instance which directs our way of thinking and acting, even if we do not realize it, but must always remain hidden in our consciousness. This is why the unconscious is constantly repressed by psychic structures which struggle not to attack the consciousness, and this continual struggle can generate psychopathologies.

However, Rorschach also knew the other side of the coin on the repression of the unconscious according to Freud. The creator of psychoanalysis believed that the content of the unconscious can emerge in consciousness and manifest it indirectly through symbolic disguises which, by concealing the true nature of what is to be repressed, does not endanger the stability of the consciousness. For example, proposed the idea that dreams are symbolic manifestations of desires that must be repressed.

But this way of symbolically disguising elements of the unconscious occurs not only in dreams, but in many other dimensions of human activity. Rorschach came to the conclusion that part of the unconscious can be projected into symbolic interpretations of what is seen, and therefore tried to create a psychological test in which people had to interpret totally ambiguous numbers, with no apparent meaning. In this way, the way they interpreted these totally meaningless shapes would reveal hidden aspects of their mind.

The Rorchach test today

Rorschach died at the age of just 37, months after publishing the book that would make him famous, and his symmetrical inkblot test quickly began to gain popularity. It began to be used as a tool to diagnose mental disorders, but its main use was for personality testing..

It got to a point where it became so popular in the personnel selection field that it was one of the most used tools in the human resources world, and it also entered forensic psychology to become an appeal expert in legal proceedings.

Even today, the Rorschach inkblot test is widely used both in justice and in business, and the various schools of the psychodynamic current have continued to work in an attempt to improve the criteria of interpretation which have started. In fact, much persistence has gone into perfecting a system for interpreting Rorschach test results, the best known being the Complete Rorschach System conducted in the 1960s by John E. Exner.

However, the popularity of the Rorschach color test goes hand in hand with another fact to keep in mind: the Rorschach test does not have the validity or reliability that one would expect from a resource with a good empirical basis. Therefore, using these spots to assess psychological characteristics is considered a pseudo-scientific practice.

Criticisms of the Rorschach test

The first argument used to link the width test to pseudoscience refers to the epistemological paradigm on which psychoanalysis and the Freudian theories which gave birth to the psychodynamic current of psychology are based. This is so because Rorschach’s ideas about the unconscious cannot be tested or falsified: There is no clear way to rule out the possibility that a person has childhood trauma or wants to be protected by an authority figure, to give an example, as explanations of unconscious forces that move the body person can still be modified fly without compromising the original assumptions.

Likewise, if someone sees a unicorn on one of Rorschach’s slides, there are a myriad of ways to justify that person being very introverted, to give an example. This criticism therefore calls into question the validity of the theories on which the Rorschach test is based.

The second aspect of the criticism directed against the Rorschach test is more pragmatic in nature and questions the usefulness of the test as a diagnostic tool or a personality test. He stresses that this is not a valid or reliable instrument and that through its use few robust correlations have been found to establish which type of responses reflect which type of trends. psychological.. The way in which test takers’ responses are interpreted does not reflect clear trends and, in general, the conclusions drawn are arbitrary or based on prejudice.


The Rorschach test is one of the most iconic and well-known inventions. He has appeared in series, novels, films and even gives his name to one of the most famous comic book characters of the writer and screenwriter. Alan moore. It is also often understood as one of the resources that psychologists use to study personality. However, the fact that its theoretical foundations are thus called into question greatly undermines its credibility as a diagnostic tool or psychotechnical test.

Bibliographical references:

  • Gacono, CB and Evans, B. (2007). Rorschach’s forensic assessment manual (personality and clinical psychology). New York: Lawrence Erlbaum and associates.
  • Lilienfeld, SO, Bois, JM, Garb, HN (2000). The scientific state of projective techniques. Psychological Sciences of Public Interest, 1 (2), pages 27 to 66.
  • Sutherland, S. (2013). Irrationality: the enemy within. London: Pinter and Martin.
  • Wood, JM, Nezworski, MT, Lilienfeld, SO, Garb, HN (2003). And the Rorschach? San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

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