The Use Of The Rorschach Inkblot Test In Psychology

By Patricia Oelze

Updated December 17, 2018

Reviewer EmeliaThygesen


I can almost guarantee that you have seen the Rorschach inkblot test at some point in your life. From characters in comic books to glimpses of inkblot cards in popular television shows, the test itself has managed to attract a lot of attention over the years. What it is and what it truly sets out to accomplish, however, remains a thing of mystery to many of us. For those of you who are curious as to what the true use of the Rorschach inkblot test is in psychology, here is an in-depth analysis:

The Origins Of The Inkblot Test

The Rorschach inkblot test was created in 1921 by Swiss psychoanalyst and psychiatrist Hermann Rorschach. The inspiration came for the test came 10 years before while he was writing his dissertation on hallucinations in people with schizophrenia. During his work with schizophrenic patients, he noticed that people with schizophrenia responded differently from those without while playing an inkblot charades game known as Blotto or Klecksographie.

Once he had established his psychiatric practice, Rorschach developed 40 inkblot cards to test his theory further. However, only 15 of the inkblot cards were regularly used with patients as his research developed and only ten of the inkblot cards ended up being printed and distributed due to printing costs.

His studies produced a personal system of scoring in which he classified responses using letters: "W" for those who had a response based on the whole inkblot; "D" for those who focused on smaller details of the inkblot; "F" for the form of the inkblot; and "C" for if the inkblot included color. This scoring system split into five different systems after Rorschach's death in 1922. These scoring systems included the popular Beck and Kopfler systems and the lesser-known Piotrowski, Hertz, and Rapaport-Schafer systems.


Until 1973, these scoring systems were the primary systems used to score the results of the Rorschach inkblot test. However, one John E. Exner challenged the systems in 1969 and noticed that the five systems varied so dramatically that it would be impossible to get a clear reading from any patient. Exner published a new scoring system in 1973 that became the sole scoring system of all psychologists for the inkblot test.

The Use Of The Rorschach Inkblot Test In Psychology: How Does It Work And What Does It Do?

To put it simply, the Rorschach is a projective psychological test that evaluates the answers of a patient to conclude their personality. Ironically, Rorschach did not create the inkblot test for personality testing. The test was developed to identify serious mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, depression, and anxiety. It became clear over time, however, that the test was more useful for identifying personality traits rather than mental illnesses, although the test can still produce these results.

When the test is administered to a patient, the patient's brain begins trying to identify any patterns in the inkblots. Each of the inkblots has a common shape that is identified by most patients. These common shapes are used to determine whether or not a patient is projecting their personalities onto the inkblots or not. After one round of all ten cards, the patient is typically brought through another round in which they are asked to explain more about the inkblots. This is when the personality of the patient tends to bleed into their interpretation of the cards.

Once the test is finished and the responses are recorded, the psychiatrist who administered the test will begin to evaluate the patient's response. Much of the interpretation comes from the psychiatrist's understanding of the patient's answers. Although the cards do have common interpretations, the patient's response will tell the psychiatrist about their past, their personality traits, and the way that they function in the world.

The psychiatrist will also use a scoring system that bases answers on the following characteristics:

  • The perceived form of the inkblot
  • If any movement was detected by the patient when viewing the inkblot
  • Responses that feature color
  • Responses that feature white, gray, or black colors
  • Responses that describe the texture of an inkblot
  • Responses that describe the shading and dimensions of an inkblot
  • Responses that describe the shading of the inkblot
  • Responses that address the dimensions of an inkblot but not the shading
  • Responses that address a pair of objects due to the asymmetrical nature of the inkblot

Because of the complex nature of the responses, these characteristics will often be paired together to provide a better description of the patient's responses.

Arguments Supporting And Discrediting The Rorschach Inkblot Test

As with the majority of popular scientific tests and theories, there are psychologists on both sides of the inkblot test that either support it or discredit it.

Psychologists who are on the supporting side argue that the test is an effective method to reveal how the mind works and that it is successful enough to uncover mental illnesses and personality traits based on an individual's answers.

Let me direct you to a study published by the American Psychological Association in 2013. The study, conducted by Joni L. Mahura, Gregory J. Meyer, Nicolae Dumitrascu, and George Bombel, provided deep analysis of each of the variables in a patient's personality that the Rorschach test sought to identify.

Their findings suggest that, yes, the Rorschach test does have substance to it, especially when the test is conducted on those who are suffering from a mental illness. While not all of the variables that the Rorschach test identifies are strongly supported, a great deal of them are. The most supported variables include those that help to detect psychotic disorders, mental distress, and the risk of suicide in an individual.

On the other side of the test, those who are seeking to discredit the Rorschach inkblot test argue that it is unreliable and unable to accurately detect any mental health issues, aside from some psychotic disorders.

The biggest issue seen by those on the opposing side is that there is no specific system of measurement that works for every person tested. Everyone's interpretation of the test is unique, and because of this, there is room for error in the results of the test. This can be especially harmful if the test is being administered in a court of law or in another situation where accuracy is vital.


The second major issue that is seen in the Rorschach inkblot test is that it can't always be reliable by those who are not interested in the test or its results. For example, let's imagine that a young teenager has a psychotic disorder and is being forced to see a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist decides to administer the test to the teenager. The teenager, already knowing exactly what the test is due to seeing it somewhere in the media, decides to give the most basic answers. The test then concludes that the teenager is fine rather than identifying the underlying disorder.

Both sides present valuable arguments, and the test is still currently being used by psychiatrists today.

While the validity of the Rorschach inkblot test is debatable, the mental illnesses that it is seeking to identify are not. If you believe that you have a mental illness, the best course of action to take is to seek help immediately. Don't know where to start? I highly recommend starting your healing journey by visiting


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