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An Insight into the Rorschach Inkblot Test That'll Leave You Intrigued

A Brief Insight into the Rorschach Inkblot Test
In the field of psychology, projective tests are those that determine the personality and behavior of an individual based on his/her reaction to a set of standard ambiguous stimuli. The Rorschach inkblot test, one of the most common examples.
Komal B. Patil
Last Updated: Jun 3, 2018
The character Rorschach, from the comic Watchmen, wears a masks which is a homage to the psychological test and its creator. The black and white blot-like patterns on the mask echo the characters view and sense of morality.
Justinus Kerner was a German doctor who published a book in 1857, which contained poems inspired by accidental inkblots. Alfred Binet, a French psychologist, used inkblot patterns as a form of a creativity test that examined the imagination and consciousness of the human mind. The work of both these researchers proved to be quite inspirational to Hermann Rorschach. This led him to conduct a study which involved showing certain inkblot patterns to normal as well as mentally-challenged people, in order to record their reactions and perception. He believed that the reaction to the images would help elucidate the person's inner emotions and way of thinking. After conducting successive studies aimed at refining the process of testing and analysis, he published his manuscript, titled 'Psychodiagnostik', which formed the basis of the Rorschach test. He intended the test to be a diagnostic tool for the identification of schizophrenia.

Despite the fact that Rorschach had served as Vice President of the Swiss Psychoanalytic Society, he encountered numerous difficulties and setbacks in getting his manuscript published. He finally managed to publish it in 1921, but died shortly after in 1922 due to appendicitis. After his death, the system of testing and scoring was further improved upon by Samuel Beck and Bruno Klopfer. John E. Exner summarized these improvements and streamlined the whole test, giving rise to the Exner scoring system. Eventually, the test gained momentum and popularity, and was widely accepted and practiced by psychologists as a personality test, contrary to Rorschach's intentions.
The Rorschach Test
The test involves the psychological assessment of a person based on the images that person sees or identifies in the pattern of ambiguous inkblots. The test is said to be a projective test, since the perception and interpretation of the blots is a projection of the person's mind, i.e., if a person was aggressive by nature, he/she may observe the presence of a weapon or an act of violence in the blot pattern.

The test consists of a set of ten blot patterns printed on a white background, of which 5 are in black, two are in black and red, and the remaining three are multicolored. The unique feature of these blots is that they are bilaterally symmetrical, and have no definite resemblance to any particular object.

The test is conducted by first inducing a relaxed, yet controlled environment, and instructing the subject to voice the first object that comes to mind after seeing the blots. Each pattern is shown to the subject in a predetermined order, and the subject's response, along with overall composure, and the time taken to respond to the pattern is noted down by the examiner. After all the cards have been viewed, the examiner goes over each card with the subject, and asks him/her to highlight the parts of the pattern that led to the response, and the reason (if any) behind choosing that particular response. All verbal and non-verbal cues of the subject are noted down during the course of the test. It is highly unlikely for a subject to be unable to recognize any object in the inkblots. But, if this is the case, it is often thought to indicate problems with cognition and processing of complex visual cues.

Based on all these cues, the subject's responses are scored by the psychologist, and then interpreted in the form of personality traits. Various factors like content (human/animal/abstract), location (whole/partial inkblot or in the negative space), and cultural ethnicity of the subject play a role in the interpretation of the test responses.
► This test is often used in court-mandated mental evaluation of people, to determine aspects of an individual's personality structure, function, and dynamics. It is used in cases of child custody to determine if the parent has a good mental state.

► It is often used as a tool for developing a differential diagnosis in case of mental disorders. This is due to the highly similar nature of symptoms exhibited by various mental disorders.

► It is also used to detect and identify suicidal as well as murderous tendencies in people.
Ethical Issues
The biggest ethical threat that any test, let alone a psychological test, faces, is that of publicizing the test and the responses. While various psychological societies of the world support the right to freedom, information, and inquiry, it is deemed unethical for the disclosure of the test images to the general public, despite the fact that according to copyright laws, these images are in the public domain.

This is due to the fact that, if a potential subject comes across the test images and the usual responses, he/she might cite these responses instead of their real perceptions when tested. This would result in an inaccurate psychological assessment of the subject, and hence, is tantamount to cheating on the test for self-benefit.
◼ The most obvious limitation is that of illusory correlations of the test results by the tester/psychologist. This is seen in cases where the tester sees a correlation between the data and the subjects, where none exists. An example of this is the investigation carried out by Loren and Jean Chapman regarding the use of this test for diagnosing homosexuality. According to various testers, the identification of any signs of sexuality or genital organs in the blot patterns was a sign of homosexuality. This was an illusory correlation, since Chapman's investigation proved that heterosexuals were just as likely to identify these signs in the blot patterns.

◼ This test is also liable to misinterpretation of the subject's response due to the projections and biases of the tester. This occurs since the tester has to score the subject's response based on his/her own judgment. This leaves room for error, as the tester has to judge what category the subject's answers belongs to, and since the rationalization and perceptions differ from person to person, it is likely that different testers will categorize the responses differently, thereby rendering the response and its score inaccurate. For example, in case a subject views a blot and identifies a shape resembling a 'bra', a male examiner may be likely to categorize it as a sexual reference, whereas a female investigator may just file it as a clothing response. The gender, ethnicity, race, mindset of the subject, as well as the tester play a huge role in the interpretation of this test, and hence, this test cannot be completely objective.

◼ Since it is a highly subjective test, relying on the perception and judgment of not only the subject but also the tester, the test is rendered unreliable. A reliable test is one where if all conditions are maintained, the results should be consistent. However, as mentioned above, this is not possible due to the bias, perception, and judgment of the subject as well as the examiner, rendering it unreliable. Also, since the subject has been through the process and has been assessed, when the individual is tested again, he/she may knowingly manipulate the answers to reflect himself/herself favorably, thus exhibiting an inconsistency in the results despite keeping all other aspects and variables constant.

◼ A test is said to be valid when its objective is met or is satisfied objectively by the results. However, the subjective nature of the Rorschach test causes it to be invalid. This is because, the test is susceptible from tester projections and bias. For example, if a tester is investigating signs of intelligence, and believes certain subjects as being intelligent (from first impressions), there is a chance that he/she may ascribe a higher score to that subject's response, leading the result to reflect that the person shows signs of high intelligence. This introduction of bias into the test renders it invalid and rigged. In other words, the testers bias would subconsciously manipulate the interpretation, such that the objectives of the test are satisfied.

Due to these limitations, most psychologists do not rely on this test anymore, so much so that some even consider this projective personality test to be pseudoscience, akin to the cold readings done by mentalists and palm readers, since the results cannot be validated empirically. However, considerable research suggests that this test is a valid and reliable tool in diagnosing schizophrenia, despite the numerous limitations. It is regularly used to determine the level of thought disorder in case of schizophrenic individuals.