What is the Rorschach test?

Hermann Rorschach (1884–1922) invented the 'ink blot' personality test. This uses ten standard black or coloured inkblot designs to assess personality traits and emotional tendencies.

What was the test for?

The ink blot test was designed as a diagnostic tool to be used in controlled clinical settings. The aim was to provide insight into the mental processes involved with what was broadly termed schizophrenia. 

Rorschach, who died soon after completing his research paper Psychodiagnostik (1921) had cautioned that ‘that the test is primarily an aid to clinical diagnosis’. 

This initial intention was diluted as the test grew in popularity and was used in non clincal settings'. In the 1940s, it was adapted for use in occupational assessment and other areas of social science. By the last decades of the 20th century it had evolved into a more generic 'personality test

How is the phrase used now?

In contemporary English, the term Rorschach test is most often  used metaphorically to describe what psychologists call projective assessment. 

Put simply, this suggests that how you interpret a new piece of information depends on your 'priors' or pre-existing assumptions. For example, what do you notice about the man?


The strange tie angle? The boy-band hair? The jacket that has seen better days. 

If you are told that this is leading Bolshevik you might spot ruthless resolve in the expression. When you know that the subject died young you might discern signs of exhaustion and ill health.

Who was Hermann Rorschach?