What is a Rorschach test?

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The Rorschach inkblot test is widely used to assess various aspects of a person’s personality. It consists of ten standardized inkblots, always given in the same order. The subject relates to the examiner what he or she sees in the blots as well as what it is about the blot that suggests that particular thing. Although several scoring systems have been developed, today most clinicians use the Exner Comprehensive System to score and interpret the Rorschach inkblot test.
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Personality assessment is the measurement of affective aspects of a person’s behavior, such as emotional states, motivation, attitudes, interests, and interpersonal relations. One type of personality assessment measurement is the use of projective techniques. These techniques require that the client respond to a relatively unstructured task that permits a variety of possible responses. The fundamental assumption is that the individual’s responses to the ambiguous stimuli will reflect significant and relatively enduring personality characteristics. The Rorschach inkblot test is one such technique.

The idea that associations with ambiguous visual stimuli provide a key to personality is an ancient one, going back to the classical period in early Greece. The use of inkblots as stimuli for imagination achieved popularity in Europe during the nineteenth century. A parlor game called Blotto required players to create responses to inkblots. Although the Swiss psychiatrist Hermann Rorschach , who created the test with the intention of using it to diagnose schizophrenia, was not the first to involve inkblots in the study of psychological processes, his work was qualitatively different in establishing the framework from which personality descriptions could be made. Rorschach’s work became known with the publication of Psychodiagnostik (1921; Psychodiagnostics: A Diagnostic Test Based on Perception, 1942). Tragically, he died within a year, at the age of thirty-eight, of complications of appendicitis.

The test was adopted by five American psychologists of very different backgrounds. Each developed a scoring system based on his or her theoretical background, but all five saw the data as having perceptual-cognitive and symbolic components. In the early 1970s, the American psychologist John Exner developed the Comprehensive System to provide the Rorschach community with a common methodology, language, and literature base. Today the Exner Comprehensive System is the most widely used system to administer, score, and interpret the Rorschach. Doctoral-level psychologists require advanced training and supervision to administer, score, and interpret the Rorschach inkblot test. Some clinicians have raised concerns about the validity and reliability of the Rorschach test, but the test has many strong proponents and remains widely used among psychologists in the United States.

Administration, Scoring, and Interpretation

The Rorschach uses ten cards, on one side of which is printed a bilaterally symmetrical inkblot. Five of the blots are in shades of gray and black only; two add additional touches of bright red; and the remaining three combine several pastel shades. The Rorschach inkblot test may be administered to preschool children through adults. The client is shown each card in a specific order and asked to relate what the blot could represent. The examiner keeps a verbatim record of what is said and done, including spontaneous remarks, position of the card, and expressions of emotion.

After all ten cards are presented, the examiner questions the client systemically regarding the location of the responses and aspects of the blot to which the associations were given. The examiner then scores the test, usually using the Exner Comprehensive System. Examples of variables scored include content (What did the client see?), location (In what part of the blot did he or see she it?), and quality of the response (Can it be seen easily by others?). The scores are then compared with norms that are the test performance of the standardization sample. Thus, an adult outpatient would be compared with a large group of other adult outpatients to discover where he or she falls on each variable in relation to the comparison group, and a nine-year-old child would be compared to other nine-year-olds. Each score would be examined to determine if it would be considered an average, below average, or above average score.

Finally, the psychologist interprets the test, focusing on those scores or combinations of scores that vary from the average performance of the standardization group. The interpretations focus on many aspects of personality, including affective features, capacity for control and stress tolerance, cognitive processes, interpersonal perception, self-perception, and situation-related stress. Information from other tests, interviews, and case history records is also utilized in formulating the interpretations. For example, if the Rorschach shows a high amount of situational stress, a clinical interview can determine what the situational stress is about. An alternative interpretative approach to the Rorschach is a clinical one. In this approach, the focus is on the interpretation of content rather than a strict analysis of scores. Most psychologists combine both approaches as a means of enhancing the interpretations.


Anastasi, Anne, and Susan Urbina. Psychological Testing. 7th ed. Upper Saddle River: Prentice, 1997. Print.

Butcher, James Neal. Oxford Handbook of Personality Assessment. New York: Oxford UP, 2009. Print.

Drayton, Mike. “What's Behind the Rorschach Inkblot Test?” BBC News Magazine. BBC, 24 July 2012. Web. 26 June 2014.

Erdberg, Philip. “Rorschach Assessment.” Handbook of Psychological Assessment. Ed. Gerald Goldstein and Michel Hersen. 2d ed. New York: Pergamon, 2000. Print.

Exner, John E. The Rorschach: A Comprehensive System Volume 1, Basic Foundations. 4th ed. Hoboken: Wiley, 2003. Print.

Hardman, David. Judgment and Decision Making: Psychological Perspectives. Chichester: Blackwell, 2009. Print.

Gacono, Carl B., and Barton Evans, eds. The Handbook of Forensic Rorschach Assessment. New York: Routledge, 2008. Print.

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