A Collection of Strange Beliefs, Amusing Deceptions, and Dangerous Delusions

From Abracadabra to Zombies

reader comments: Rorschach ink blot test

24 Nov 2003
It is always interesting to hear/read 'experts' explain the unexplainable, or defend the indefensible. The Rorschach ink blot test is a fine example of the true ignorance of persons who are supposedly experts in their fields. Years ago, when I was a patient in a Naval hospital, I was given the test. I identified each ink blot as "ink blot." The person administering the test left abruptly, returned a few minutes later and informed me that the doctor in charge (a psychiatrist) wanted to see me. There was quite a spirited exchange of words which ended when I said, " I don't understand why you find it unusual that I say I see ink blots when I am shown ink blots. Doctor, you are the one who just yesterday diagnosed me as having "compulsive reaction, manifested by meticulous attention to detail."

John B. Oubre
ATC, USN (Ret)

20 Jan 2001 
I strongly disagree that the interpretation of the Rorschach (if using Exner) is highly intuitive on the Psychologist's part. Exner has done an amazing job of standardizing the scoring of responses. Secondly, I completely agree that, despite this scoring system, the test is completely useless. Most of psychological testing is. It is the test report (conclusions from the entire test battery) that is so highly subjective that without any exaggeration, in my opinion, is similar to astrology. I do not state this to merely make a point. That is what it is like. Exner's scoring system has impressed scientific types into believing that because the scoring is so tedious and standardized, that it must therefore be valid and useful. Neither is true. Study after study has demonstrated that personality tests are invalid and perhaps more importantly, not useful tools.

Scott Shimabukuro, Ph.D.
Clinical Psychologist

8 Nov 2000 
As a tremendous fan of skepticism in general and your site in specific, I feel that I must take issue with the explanation of the Rorschach Inkblot Protocol contained therein. I practiced in the field of psychology for eleven years and spent many hours administering and interpreting a variety of psychological measures. In order to better understand the inner mental workings and defense postures of clients, I developed a fondness for the Rorschach. My interest in and experience with the Rorschach led me to develop my own scoring system, which I taught to many other clinicians. Part of this instruction dealt with the proper understanding and use of the instrument.

First, the Rorschach is not, and has never been properly used as, even an inferential measure of "personality". It is a structured, non-verbal interview methodology that demonstrates the mental and emotional workings of an individual. It is almost impossible to "fake", since the act of attempting to do so tends to accentuate defenses rather than hide them. The only methods by which one can deny the test access to one's defense structure is to refuse to take it, or to respond with irrelevant or similar responses to all items. Even these responses are telling, however.

Much of the information that is gathered by a competent examiner using a Rorschach protocol could be gathered similarly with interview techniques. I favored the Rorschach because it always presented the person against the same backdrop. It was easier for me to see them clearly this way. Interviews are loaded with bias, transference, diversion, etc. The Rorschach is always the same ten cards, presented (at least the first time through) with only the simplest of instruction: "I'm going to give you a series of ten cards to look at, one at a time. All you have to do is to look at each card and tell me what you see." The first card is presented to the client and they are instructed, "Tell me what you see." The first time through, their responses are recorded with no, or almost no additional prompting or explanation. They must organize the experience. After the initial run-through the cards are re-presented (again, one at a time) and "inquiry" is performed. The examiner is somewhat free to ask about how the client came to see certain things and why. If expected responses are not demonstrated, the subject can be prodded to see if these can be elicited.

I always enjoyed using this instrument, because there is an art to it, rather than the cold mechanism of paper-and-pencil tests. I gave up the field because it became obvious to me that, while developing a good understanding of a person was possible, helping them effectively and permanently improve themselves was not. I now design rubber gaskets for sewer pipes and find it a challenge equally as intellectually interesting as psychotherapy.

Michael R. Miller

reply: I think you made a wise career change.

18 Jun 1999
I am aware of 2 errors of fact in your
Skeptic's Dictionary.

The first concerns your skeptical criticism of the Rorschach Inkblot. You criticize the putative scientific status of the Rorschach because the scientific evidence for its validity is based as it must be on correlation alone. You compare this to the efficacy of interpreting dreams. In point of fact the Rorschach has a more immediate source of validity: clinical usefulness. It is in fact a powerful tool in properly trained hands, and your skeptical criticisms amount to nothing more than "character assassination", that is, you have neither proven it to be useless or invalid, nor have you proved to be invalid the claims of those who find it useful and valid. Therefore, I consider your propositions regarding the inkblot to be errors of fact, in that they are speculation posing as proof.

reply: I don't criticize the ink blot test because the evidence for its validity rests on correlation alone. I criticize it because it is too subjective and its application and validation rests completely with the therapist's "insight" and intuition. As such, it is no different from making a diagnosis based on conversations with someone.

The attempt to standardize a projective test is akin to what Freud did in his Interpretation of Dreams. There is no objective set of rules for what either the ink blots or dreams mean.

I never claimed the ink blot test to be useless. A good therapist ought to be able to use any interaction with the patient to some purposeful and useful end.

I think, however, that you, like many therapists, don't know the difference between a statement of fact and an opinion.

The second error of fact is more egregious. You claim that the images seen on Kirlian photographs are due to "moisture" emanating from the object. Again you have not studied your subject in enough depth to offer better than speculative criticism. The moisture effect is your theory, nothing more, and it is disproved by two observations: first, that aura's have been captured from objects that were bone dry, such as stone or metal, and second, that if the photographic emulsion is separated from the object by a thin layer of glass, the aura can still be detected even when it is impossible for moisture to have penetrated the glass. Finally, you are guilty of bad faith, because you essentially imply that persons reporting such things as phantom half leaves are either so foolish as to conduct the experiment sloppily so as to confound the results with the effects on which you speculate, or else that they are liars who misrepresent their technique. From what I have seen the people conducting both Kirlian photography research and those doing research on the Rorschach are working harder and more intelligently, and certainly with more good faith, than what you have done.

reply: Apparently, you have a difficult time reading. I claim that the "auras" in Kirlian photographs can be due to several things: pressure, electrical grounding, humidity, temperature, changes in moisture, barometric pressure, and voltage.

Moisture left behind by a section of a leaf that has been sliced accounts for the appearance of "phantom" sections of the leaf in Kirlian photographs. Moisture is not what is photographed. Electrical discharge is what is photographed.

I haven't heard anyone being accused of "bad faith" since my college days when existentialism was the rage. I don't doubt that your researchers work hard, nor do I challenge their intelligence. Whether they have good faith or bad faith, I can't say. However, I think your critical comments demonstrate the uselessness of such expressions.

17 Jul 1996
I hope you will take the time to talk to a psychologist or psychiatrist before debunking a sometimes useful tool. The Rorschach ink blot can be over-interpreted to be sure, yet, there are certain characteristics of response which very accurately predict mental illness and conflict. If I were to explain these, it would render the test useless to anyone who read this. The reliability of the test is, in part, due to the fact that the patient does not know what kind of information in his responses, is pertinent.

I have seen a profile of a patient from a Rorschach. This was a patient of whom I had privileged and intimate knowledge, (of which the testing psychologist had none) and found the test VERY accurately described many aspects of the patient's personality and relationships. Maybe you should read about this, rather than theorize from the hip.
-- S Durrenberger MD

reply: theorizing from the hip is a problem of mine, but being a physician you must understand how hard it is to break ingrained habits. Anyway, how long can this test remain useful when the info you won't reveal has been published and is available to anyone who cares to dig for it. Don't forget that the one who administered the Rorschach also met with, conversed with and interacted with the patient. The evaluation of the patient's personality wasn't based solely on the interpretation of the patient's interpretation of ink blots.

1 Nov 96
You might be surprised at the usefulness of the Rorschach. As you mentioned, it is not really a projective test. One looks at the structure of the person's responses. The people who are researching this test are not soft scientists--the data is pretty meticulous, in order to avoid lapsing into the kind of pseudo-science that characterized interpretation in the past. There's much more subtlety in the interpretation than is conveyed by your passage. Anyway, I'm a psychologist, and find that many people are skeptical of it. But it is one of the stranger discoveries of my life that such an odd technique really does seem to have merit. The same types of people really do produce the same types of responses to the blots. I never would have believed it when I first began reading about it years ago. Of course, to make sense of the responses, one has to first have a coherent understanding of personality. The cards alone don't provide that. Its impossible to interpret the cards, or any test, well, if there is no cohesive understanding of personality with which to inform the results.

reply: You are correct. I would be surprised at the usefulness of the Rorschach.

9 Nov 1997
Since I happen to be a "believer" in the inkblot test (a belief which is founded on my own research on neuropsychological patients, and on extensive, critical literature studies) I object to the publishing of the data (i.e., "the contours of the blots" ) about the Rorschach cards. As you do not fail to emphasize, everybody must always consider the possibility that he is wrong even in his favourite beliefs. And if you are wrong about the validity of the Rorschach test, you may do serious harm to a valuable clinical praxis by this publishing.

In the matter of who is right and who is wrong about validity, excuse me if I put the matter somewhat rudely, but if you are so ignorant that you believe that Rorschach did not use his cards for personality analysis (quote from your page!), you should be very careful in your judgements about the test until you have checked out some more facts.
Helge Malmgren PhD, MD, associate professor
Dept. of Philosophy, Göteborg University

reply: I haven't published any "data" about the Rorschach cards or the shapes of the blots. I hope you are not suggesting that because something may be useful in clinical practice, it would be wrong to criticize it.

30 Nov 1997
I loved your page on the Rorschach. At the moment (and much to my regret), this course is required for our Ph.D. degree in clinical psychology. I have taught courses on personality, and have several publications on the biological underpinnings of personality traits. Your readers' comments show that these professionals have a distinct lack of appreciation for the "Barnum Effect," as related to assessment of individual differences. Rorschach never conceptualized his little test as a "projective" assessment tool (thus, saving himself from purgatory). He would turn over in his grave if he knew how his test was used over the years. Sure, there are some data to support the validity of the inferences drawn from scores on the test using the Exner system. However, the Rorschach, in general, provides little bang for your buck (e.g., questionable incremental validity; time required for administration, scoring, and interpretation is excessive). One argument I hear for continued training of psychologists in the use of this instrument is that our friends in psychiatry love it. That is, us poor psychologists can make a dollar on consults from our M.D. associates. Let them stick to prescribing meds!

Mitchell E. Berman, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
Department of Psychology
The University of Southern Mississippi

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