Rorschach Inkblot Test

"The Original Rorschach Page"

Est. 1995

History of the Rorschach Inkblot Test

According to Exner (1993), the first publication of Hermann Rorschach's 10 inkblots was in 1921 as a monograph, Psychodiagnostik. For the 1940's and 1950's, the Rorschach was the test of choice in clinical psychology. It fell into disfavor as many clinicians began criticizing it as "subjective" and "projective" in nature. Ironically, this was never the intention of Rorschach.

While working in a psychiatric hospital with adolescents, he noticed that certain children gave characteristically different answers to a popular game known as blotto (Klecksographie). In his original publication he characterized the blots as a "Form Interpretation Test, and cautioned that his findings were preliminary and stressed the importance of much more experimentation" (Exner, 1993, p. 6). Sadly, Rorschach died in 1922 at the age of 37. He had only invested just under four years in his inkblot test.

With no clear leader to take the helm, at least four separate "systems" developed to administer, score, and interpret the test. Needless to say, questions and concerns regarding the test's reliability and validity was eventually brought into question. Beginning in the late 1950's, enter John Exner. Exner (1993) reports that David Rapport, Bruno Klopfer, Marguerite Hertz, Zygmunt Piotrowski and Samuel Beck each played a roll in his desire to compile many systems into some sort of more cohesive whole. Exner's (1993) early work showed that each system "had considerable merit, but that each were also seriously flawed in one way or another" (p. viii). The result of addressing these concerns is the Comprehensive System. The "project" grew into a three volume work that has spanned at least three editions. Exner has almost single handedly rescued a drowning beast and breathed life back into it. The result is the resurrection of perhaps the single most powerful psychometric instrument ever envisioned. 


History of Inkblot Procedures

In many countries, performing psycho-diagnosis is a major role of the psychologist who works in a clinical setting. Among the psychological tests most frequently used, inkblot techniques are the most favored. (Sundberg, 1961; Hinkle, Nelson and Miller, 1968; Sharma, Ojha and Vagrecha, 1975; Wade, Baker, Morton, and Baker, 1978; Dubey, 1982). Published in 1921, the Rorschach psycho-diagnostic test occupied a major position in the inkblot technique until 1956 when Wayne Holtzman developed his technique, to overcome some of the limitations of the Rorschach.

The needs of the busy clinicians and the increasing demands for psycho- diagnosis inspired Wilfred Cassell to develop a system of inkblot techniques. He uses modern video technology to make it usable as a self-administered technique. Before discussing the various limitations of existing inkblot techniques, it is worthwhile to trace the history of the use of inkblot procedures in psychological investigation.

Beginning of Inkblot Procedure

The history of the inkblot procedure is not easily traced. It is traceable only through Rorschach's own writing, and through the writings of Emil Oberhalzer, Walter Morgenthaler and George Roemer. Zubin, Eron and Schumer (1965) indicated that the concept of formless stimuli, used in inkblot techniques to stimulate the imagination, can be traced back to Leonardo Da Vinci and Botticelli in the fifteenth century.

Exner (1969) wrote that it was important to note that in Europe during the latter half of the nineteenth century, and the early part of the twentieth century, there was much public interest in inkblots, not as a test but more as a game. It was very common for inkblots to be used in a popular parlor game called "Blotto," where the challenge was to associate an image to a design. The design might well have been created right there, or taken from the many inkblots and similar designs appearing in contemporary books and magazines. "More formally, there was in Europe and the United States, considerable experimentation attempted with inkblots as tests of imagination, personality and intelligence. Krugman (1942) cites the evidence that as early as 1895, Binet and Henri suggested that inkblots could be used for studying various personality traits, especially visual imagination. Dearborn, while working at Harvard University, published an article in 1897 discussed the potentials of employing inkblot techniques in experimental psychology. As Tulchin mentions, in 1848 Dearborn published the results of applying an inkblot technique to a group of sixteen subjects, wherein he used twelve sets of inkblots, each having ten blots similar in nature. Tulchin also cites the pre-Rorschach work of Sharp, Kirkpatrick, Whipple, Pyle, Bartlette and Parsons, all of whom published material between 1900 and 1917 concerning inkblot methodology in the United States and England" (Exner, 1974).

Baumgarten - Traumer (1942) mentioned that in 1910 in Moscow there appeared an atlas for experimental research on personality, published by a Russian psychologist named Theodere Rybakow who was a tutor at Moscow University. In the atlas, there was a test consisting of eight inkblots. All of them were asymmetrical. Rybakow indicated that her husband's decision to work with inkblots was stimulated by the observations of Konard Gehring, a teacher. Gehring discovered, while using inkblots displayed on very large sheets of paper at the front of the classroom, that certain children gave very similar responses to a variety of inkblots, even though the images were different in their form and color.

Zubin and Eron (1966) described three periods in the history of inkblot use in projective testing. Artists who painted "indeterminate forms to simulate creative imagination" comprised the pre-experimental period in the Nineteenth century. Binet introduced the "psychological experimental period" in 1895 with his assessment techniques, which measured imagination as an index of cognitive ability. Binet believed that a large number and variety of inkblot responses were a positive correlation to a "lively visual imagination" (Binet and Henry, 1895). Other inkblot researchers hypothesized that conscious awareness was slowed by ambiguous stimuli, thus making the perceptual process accessible for research purposes (Dearborn, 1897; Whipple, 1910).

The third historical period began in 1911 with Herman Rorschach's innovative research on "the interpretation of accidental forms" (1951). His interest in art forms and perception surfaced when he was a schoolboy. He was affectionately nicknamed "Klex" or "inkblots" by his peers (Cassell, 1980). Roemer (1967) wrote that Rorschach's first purpose for developing an inkblot test was to investigate the subject's reflex hallucination through viewing inkblots. Cassell (1965) initially used inkblots to study the subject's body perceptions and somatic symptoms. Cassell (1980) extended his use of this technique to where the clinician could better hear the suffering individual's "inner cry."

In summary, it can be said that the beginning of inkblot use may be traced back to the fifteenth century and that a sizable amount of work was done towards the end of the nineteenth century. Inkblot procedures have been used for studying imagination, thought processes, reflex hallucinations, intelligence and personality. Currently, they are being used to understand the subject's psychopathology and to hear his/her "inner cry." Currently the work is going on in various International Centers.

Existing Inkblot Tests

There are three major standardized tests based on inkblots. The pioneer amongst them was the Rorschach Inkblot Test published in 1921. Use of this test to explore the subject's psychopathology and basic personality structure is well known. A research publication by Reynolds and Sunberg (1976) ranked the Rorschach test as number one. They based their findings on Buros Mental Measure year book. A survey conducted on the members of The American Psychological Association Division-12, and The Indian Association of Clinical Psychologists showed concern from respondents about the limitations of the test (Wade et al 1978; Sharma, Ojha and Vagrecha, 1975; Dubey, 1982). Zubin (1965) has charged seven major failures as follows:

1. Failure to provide an objective system, free of arbitrary conventions, and showing high interscorer agreement.

2. Lack of satisfactory internal consistency, or test-retest reliability.

3. Failure to provide cogent evidence for clinical validity.

4. Failure of the individual Rorschach scoring categories to relate to diagnosis.

5. Lack of prognostic, or predictive validity with respect to the outcome of treatment, or later behavior.

6. Individual differences between groups of normal subjects.

7. Failure to find any significant relationships between Rorschach scores and intelligence, or creative ability.

In 1953, Fiske and Baughman reported that practitioners feel that the variation in the total number of responses is too much to be able to interpret the ratio scores adequately. Also, the meaning of the indices changes depending upon the length of the protocol, because the relationship between Rorschach scores and the total number of responses is complex and curvilinear.

Many workers compute percentage ratio in an effort to control the length of the protocol. Holtzman (1956) pointed out that such procedures were very unsatisfactory, not only because of the non-linear relationships between R and other Rorschach's scores, but also because of the crude, unstable and metric qualities of most Rorschach variables.

Holtzman et al (1956) pointed out that much of the controversy over the Rorschach arises from the failure to distinguish between the Rorschach as a projective technique in the hands of a skilled clinician, and the Rorschach as a psychometric device, that yields scores having relevance for personality assessment. The analysis of responses to inkblots has ranged all the way from one extreme to the other of the projective psychometric continuum.

Wayne Holtzman developed an inkblot test to overcome some of the limitations of the Rorschach. The main limitation of the Rorschach, as experientially determined, was the problem of variation in the length of the protocol (Fiske and Baughman, 1953; Dubey and Pershad, 1978). As Fiske and Baughman pointed out, the relationship between Rorschach scores and the total number responses are complex and curvilinear. Consequently, the usual effect of R linear regression methods for removing the confounding effect of R will generally fail.

Dubey, (1982), in a study of 300 subjects, found that most of the Rorschach indices are dependent upon the number of responses. When the groups of Normal, Neurotics, and Schizophrenics were divided, on the basis of number of responses, into high productivity and low productivity, many indices which were found to be significant lost their significance. It further strengthened the findings of Fiske and Baughman, and supported the intention of Holtzman.

The advantage, which Holtzman introduced in his test, was to offer an alternate series of the inkblot stimuli test for reassessing the personality after some type of intervention. Holtzman provided 45 cards in each series. The subject is required to give one response per card. Holtzman categorically selected only 22 variables such as: reaction time, location, form definiteness form appropriateness, color, shading, movement, pathosonomic verbalization, integration, human, animal, anatomy, anxiety, hostility, barrier, penetration, popular, etc. His test is said to measure almost the same aspects of personality that are measured by the Rorschach. Holtzman has clearly emphasized the psychometric approach. The Holtzman test has wide application and is popular. However, the research output is not as prolific as that of the Rorschach test. The Somatic Inkblot Series (SIS) developed by Wilfred A. Cassell is a recent extension of the traditional inkblot projective techniques. The test was developed specifically to understand the manifestation of problems through somatization, and to hear the suffering individual's "inner cry." The test images are viewed on a television using a video cassette recorder (VCR). The subject's responses are recorded on a separate response sheet. The procedure can be done while the patient waits for his/her turn at a clinic or a hospital. In some cases where the individual has good ego strength, the procedure can be completed at home.