What is the Rorschach test?
The Rorschach test is a diagnostic tool used to gain psychological insight. It uses 10 standard black or coloured inkblot designs to assess personality traits and emotional tendencies.
In contemporary English, the term Rorschach test is often used metaphorically to describe what psychologists call projective assessment. Put simply, how you see something depends on your 'priors' or pre-existing assumptions.
Who was Rorschach?
Hermann Rorschach (1884–1922) invented the 'ink blot' personality test. The test emerged from the Swiss psychiatrist's lifelong passion for klecksography - turning inkblots into recognisable images. Influenced by the newly emerging field of psychoanalysis, Rorschach began exploring how emotion shapes perception.
Rorschach had an unusual childhood. He was born into an an artistic family but lost both his parents at an early age and was brought up by a cold and distant stepmother. At school he was prodigy - speaking several languages and excelling as an artist.
As a young man, Rorschach studied medicine in Zurich, specialising in psychiatry. His teachers included Eugen Bleuler - who coined the terms schizophrenia and autism - and Carl Jung.
The ink blot test emerged out of Rorschach's work with patients with severe psychiatric disorders. He experimented with hundreds of blots before settling on ten that he felt offered the most insight into emotional states. The test drew on some established psychological links - the colour red with danger and excitement, for example, but many of the associations he revealed were innovative.
The Rorschach Test went on to become a key tool in the emerging field of psychoanalysis. From the 1940s it spread into many other areas - as an element in occupational psychology for example. It is still used all over the world and is particularly popular in Japan.
Hermann Rorschach did not live to see the success of his test. Though medically trained and married to a doctor, the young Freudian did not act on early signs of peritonitis.
He died at the age of thirty-seven, less than a year after the publication of his findings in Psychodiagnostik.