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Rorschach tests: science or just modern art?

With the controversy over Wikipedia recently posting the Rorschach or “ink blot” tests psychologists have used over the last century, as well as answers deemed “normal,” it has left some unanswered questions, well, still unanswered.

For one, are these things really useful diagnostic tools? Are they really science?

From LiveScience:

Though the Rorschach is the most famous psychological test in the world, it is little understood outside of psychology circles. The test is a series of 10 colored ink blots created nearly a century ago by Swiss psychiatrist Hermann Rorschach.

The ink blots are a projective test; patients are asked to interpret the patterns for a psychologist or psychiatrist. As a subjective test, there are no official right or wrong answers, but test-givers do have a list of what are called normed responses — the most common answers.

The premise behind the test is that the answers provided by people who suffer from mental illness will be markedly different than the answers provided by normal people.

The real concern should not be whether people might be able to cheat on the test, but whether or not the Rorschach is valid in the first place.

After all, if the test is worthless at diagnosing mental illness, assessing personality disorders, or predicting behavior, there is no point in “protecting” it.

Scott Lilienfeld, an associate professor of psychology at Emory University and co-author of the 2003 book “What’s Wrong with the Rorschach?” is one of many psychologists who doubts the validity of the test. Lilienfeld and the other authors surveyed more than 50 years of research and studies on the scientific evidence for the Rorschach, concluding that it is “weak at best and nonexistent at worst.”

Furthermore, Lilienfeld  and colleagues point out, studies show that about half of the normal Rorschach test-takers will be labeled as having “distorted thinking.” This staggeringly high false-positive error rate (among many other problems) suggests that the Rorschach should be relegated to the pile of once-promising but now-discredited psychological tests.

Read the whole article



Beth Kelley is an applied & digital anthropologist with an overall interest in how people engage with and are impacted by their environments and vice versa. This has manifested itself in many ways, by looking at creativity, playful spaces, built environments, and environmental enrichment, sustainability, design research, and integrative and collaborative models of learning such as through play and hands-on learning.