Rorschach Inkblot Test


Hermann Rorschach

Hermann Rorschach wrote Psychodiagnostik in 1921.  It outlines the methods of the psychological projective test the Rorschach Inkblot Test.  The Rorschach Test is an experiment that measures the interpretation of inkblots.  The test consists of ten figures printed on ten separate cards, all of which “fulfill certain special requirements as well as general ones.” (Rorschach, 1921).  Five cards are black and white, while the other five cards are colored. The procedure involves presenting a subject with the ten cards and asking them what they see as well as the specific features that made the subject draw the conclusion that they did.  The subjects interpretation of the forms is perception, not imagination.  Scoring is dependent upon the quality of the answers (i.e. how common or unusual, attention to detail, to whole versus part responses, etc).  (Thorne & Thorne, 2005, p. 505).

Rorschach’s original study consisted of 405 individuals.  Rorschach divided individuals who were non-patients into two categories: educated and not educated.  Rorschach stressed the need for further experimentation and study.  In 1922, he died before achieving this.

While the Rorschach test can help provide descriptions, it is not a diagnostic test.  The descriptions help form an understanding of a patient’s individual personality.

Wikipedia sparked controversy in the psychology community when the entire set of Rorschach images appeared on the website, altering the outcome of future tests where patients are already exposed to the inkblots.  On the website, each image appears with a set of popular responses.  “Because the copyright for the test images has expired, efforts to remove the images are in vain, making them a part of the public domain.” (Butcher 2010).


Established in 1920, the Tavistock clinic in London is one of the first outpatient clinics to utilize psychotherapy inspired by the psychoanalytic theory.  In 1933, Theodora Alcock—a child psychotherapist—brought the Rorschach technique to the Tavistock clinic.  Later, while working under the Tavistock Insitute of Human Relations, Alcock began training others to administer and score the Rorschach technique.  In 1963, she published The Rorschach in Practice. (McCarthy Woods, 2006).

While not a diagnostic tool when it was first introduced in the United Kingdom, the Rorschach test was a tool for diagnosing whether a “patient’s difficulties were psychotic, neurotic, or organic in nature.”  (McCarthy Woods, 2006).  After World War II, many psychologists working with the Ministry of Defense utilized the Rorschach—along with other tests—for the selection and monitoring of military personnel.

Founded by Dr. James Earl in 1942, the British Rorschach Forum—renamed the British Society for Projective Psychology and Personality Study in 1970—helped popularize the Rorschach technique as well as maintain the integrity and standards of the test.  The Rorschach’s popularity in the United Kingdom began to decline around the 1970s when the techniques were attacked as “unscientific.”  During this time, behavioral therapy grew in popularity. (McCarthy Woods, 2006)


While studying in Switzerland, David Levy stumbled upon Rorschach’s inkblot test, and brought it to the United States when he returned home.  In 1934, Samuel Beck, a student of Levy’s at Columbia University, studied children’s responses to the Rorschach Test as his dissertation.  Marguerite Hertz, another student at Columbia, followed Beck’s example by studying the Rorschach using another sample of children.  Neither Beck nor Hertz added much to the Rorschach.  Both both published articles on their studies, however, and aroused interest in the Rorschach test in the United States.  (Million, Grossman, & Meagher, 2004).

In 1934, Bruno Klopfer—a research associate at Columbia University—took a seminrar that introduced him to the Rorschach test.  Finding Rorschach’s scoring system inadequate, Klopfer began adding new codes in 1935.  A year later, Klopfer created “The Rorschach Research Exchange” (later renamed the “Journal of Projective Techniques” and again the “Journal of Personality Assessment”), a newsletter dedicated to the Rorschach test and new developments.  (Million, Grossman, & Meagher, 2004).  Zygunt Piotroski, part of Klopfer’s research group, independently conducted research with the Rorschach on brain-injured patients.  (Weiner & Greene, 2008).

In 1946, David Rapaport worked with Roy Schafer to develop the Rapaport-Schafer system as an alternative scoring system for the Rorschach. (Weiner & Greene, 2008).  By 1950, there were five separate scoring systems for the Rorschach.  It was not until 1974 that John Exner published the Rorschach Comprehensive Scoring System, which is the scoring system commonly used today.


In the early 1960s, John Exner and his associates reviewed the five individual scoring techniques for the Rorschach to discover which was superior.  Exner’s research created the foundation for the creation of the Comprehensive System for the Rorschach.  Exner found three issues with the previous five scoring techniques:

“a. the disagreement among system authors about how and what to score

b. the lack of common interpretative procedures

c. the lack of psychometrically sound norms equivalent to those that accompany measures of cognitive abilities” (Flanagan, 2006).

In 1974, Exner published his Comprehensive Scoring System which unified and organized the previous five individual scoring techniques.  (Flanagan, 2006).  The CS (Comprehensive System) is specific and detailed in its instructions on coding, which ensure that patient responses are coded the same way in each instance. (Weiner & Greene, 2008)

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Butcher, J. N. (2010). Personality Assessment from the Nineteenth to the Early
Twenty-First Century: Past Achievements and Contemporary Challenges. The
Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, Vol 6,, 1-20. doi:10.1146/

Flanagan, R. (2006). The Rorschach: A Comprehensive System (4th ed.). Journal of
Psychoeducational Assessment, 24, 166-171. doi:1-.1177/0734282905285790

McCarthy Woods, J. (2008). The History of the Rorschach in the United Kingdom.
Rorschachiana, 29, 64-80. doi:10.1027/1192-5604.29.1.64

Million, T., Grossman, S., & Meagher, S. E. (2004). Masters of the Mind :
Exploring the Story of Mental Illness From Ancient Times to the New
Millennium. N.J.: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Weiner, I. B., & Greene, R. L. (n.d.). Handbook of personality assessment.
(Original work published 2008) Retrieved from

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