This year commemorates the 100th anniversary of one of the most widely used tests ever published—the Rorschach Test. We take this opportunity to look back on the history of this assessment and the person who made it possible.
Hermann Rorschach was a Swiss psychologist and psychiatrist who is best known for developing the Rorschach inkblot test. He died in 1922 at the age of 38—before the test gained popularity. This projective test was never intended to be what it is today. In fact, initial research was focused on using this as a test for schizophrenia.
As a child, Rorschach was a fan of a game called Klecksographie. He was so devoted that his childhood nickname was Kleck. The game involved collecting inkblot cards and using those cards to create stories based on your interpretation.
Rorschach's early training was in psychiatry and psychoanalytic theory, and he became interested in the use of projective techniques. During his training, he noticed that individuals who had schizophrenia made different associations with the Klecksographie cards than those individuals without schizophrenia. He believed that the human mind projects its own subjective interpretations onto ambiguous stimuli, and these projections could reveal important information about an individual's personality and emotional functioning.
Rorschach studied 405 subjects, 117 of whom were not psychiatric patients. He showed each person a card and asked them what it may be. After four years of research, he believed this test could help diagnose and assess mental illness.
His results were published in 1921. The test gained popularity in the years following Rorschach's death, becoming the most popular test in clinical practice in the U.S. following World War II. It remains one of the most widely used and well-known psychological tests to this day.
The Rorschach test consists of 10 psychodiagnostic plates, which are presented to the subject one at a time. Though the test was initially designed for adults, normative data is available for adolescents and children.
After administration, the subjects’ insights and reactions are recorded and analyzed. In addition to scores, interpretation of behaviors during testing, patterns of responses, and themes may be taken into account.
Rorschach established a parallel between a mostly global approach to the blots and the ability to synthesize versus a more detailed approach reflecting a more analytical mind. He also determined that it was important to attend to an individual’s sensitivity to grey and black colors as well as the proportion of objects. Through this work, Rorschach proposed a typology distinguishing three basic modalities of relating to the world: introversiveness, extratensiveness, and ambitancy. These types relate to the way people associate, dissociate, or mix emotions and thoughts.
The validity of the Rorschach Test has been challenged over the years, and much research has been dedicated to both the criticism and support of the measure. As Rorschach died before the test achieved notoriety, much of the work has been done by others, and there is concern that other researchers may have modified or reinterpreted the assessment. The International Society of the Rorschach and Projective Methods (ISR) encourages users to only original stimulus material to maintain the integrity of the test.
The ISR produces the journal Rorschachiana that publishes the theory and clinical applications of the Rorschach and other projective techniques. You can read its latest issue here.
The Rorschach Test Centenary Edition is now available. It includes the original test plates, a newly translated and annotated edition of the original book, and a special issue of the Rorschachiana journal that addresses recent studies on the reliability and validity of the test.