Basics How the Rorschach Inkblot Test Works By Kendra Cherry, MSEd Kendra Cherry, MSEd Facebook Twitter Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book." Learn about our editorial process Updated on April 06, 2023 Fact checked Verywell Mind content is rigorously reviewed by a team of qualified and experienced fact checkers. Fact checkers review articles for factual accuracy, relevance, and timeliness. We rely on the most current and reputable sources, which are cited in the text and listed at the bottom of each article. Content is fact checked after it has been edited and before publication. Learn more. by Cara Lustik Fact checked by Cara Lustik LinkedIn Cara Lustik is a fact-checker and copywriter. Learn about our editorial process Print Verywell / Laura Porter Table of Contents View All Table of Contents History of the Rorschach Inkblot Test Uses of the Rorschach Inkblot Test Administration of the Rorschach Inkblot Test Scoring the Rorschach Inkblot Test Interpretation of the Rorschach Inkblot Test Criticisms Is the Rorschach Still Used? The Rorschach inkblot test is a type of projective assessment in which subjects look at 10 ambiguous inkblot images and describe what they see in each one. In the Rorschach inkblot test, the person is asked to describe what they see in ambiguous inkblot images. The therapist then interprets the person's answers. This projective test often appears in popular culture and is frequently portrayed as a way of revealing a person’s unconscious thoughts, motives, or desires. History of the Rorschach Inkblot Test One of Hermann Rorschach's favorite games as a child was Klecksography, which involves creating inkblots and making up stories or poems about them. He enjoyed the game so much that his school friends nicknamed him "Klecks," the German word for "inkblot." His interest in inkblots continued into adulthood. While working in a psychiatric hospital, Rorschach noticed that patients with schizophrenia responded to the blots differently from patients with other diagnoses. He began wondering if inkblots could be used to create profiles for different mental disorders. So, inspired perhaps by both his favorite childhood game and his studies of Sigmund Freud's dream symbolism, Rorschach developed a systematic approach to using inkblots as an assessment tool. Rorschach wasn't the first to suggest that a person's interpretation of an ambiguous scene might reveal hidden aspects of that individual's personality. Alfred Binet also experimented with the idea of using inkblots as a way to test creativity and originally planned to include inkblots in his intelligence tests. Uses of the Rorschach Inkblot Test The Rorschach test is used in psychotherapy and counseling, although not as frequently as in the past. Practitioners use it to gain qualitative information about their patients, including their personalities, emotional functioning, and thinking patterns. The results serve as a springboard to further discussion about issues they purportedly illustrate. In fact, psychologists once used the Rorschach to diagnose mental conditions such as schizophrenia. Likewise, organizations use the test to measure attributes such as creativity, intelligence, and temperament and to assess suitability for employment, acceptance into organizations, and adoption approval. Administration of the Rorschach Inkblot Test There are 10 official inkblots, each printed on separate white cards. Five inkblots are black and gray; two are black, gray, and red; and three are multicolored without any black. During administration, the examiner will sit next to you. This helps them see what you see. The test involves certain steps: Present: The examiner will give you one card at a time and ask you, “What might this be?”Respond: You’re free to interpret the ambiguous image however you want. You can take however long you like to interpret each card and can give as many responses as you want. You can also hold the cards in any position, whether it is upside down or sideways.Record: Your examiner records everything you say, no matter how trivial. They’ll note the time taken for each response, the position the card is being held, your emotional expressions, etc. during the test.Confirm: Once you go through all the inkblots once, your examiner will take you through each inkblot a second time. The goal of this is not to get new information, but to help your examiner see what you see. They’ll ask you to identify where you see what you originally saw and what features make it look like that. On average, it takes about 1.5 hours to administer and score the test. Scoring the Rorschach Inkblot Test So what exactly do interpreters of the Rorschach test look for when they are analyzing responses to the inkblots? The actual content of the responses is one thing, but other factors are essential as well. Content Content refers to the name or class of objects used in your responses. Some common contents include: Whole Human (H): A whole human figure.Human Detail (Hd): An incomplete human form (e.g., a leg) or a whole form without a body part (e.g., a person without a head).Human Detail (fictional or mythological; Hd): An incomplete fictional or mythological human figure (e.g., wings of an angel).Animal Detail (Ad): An incomplete animal form (e.g., cat’s head, claw of a crab).Sex (Sx): Anything involving sex organs, activity of a sexual nature, or sexual reproduction (e.g., sexual intercourse, breasts).Nature (Na): Anything astronomical or weather-related (e.g., sun, planets, water, rainbow). Some responses are quite common, while others may be much more unique. Highly atypical responses are notable since they might indicate disturbances in thought patterns. Location Identifying the location of your response is another element scored in the Rorschach system. Location refers to how much of the inkblot you used to answer the question. “D” if a commonly described part of the blot was used.“Dd” if an uncommonly described or unusual detail was used.“S” if the white space in the background was used. “W” if the whole inkblot was used to answer the question. Determinants Determinant coding is one of the most complex features of scoring Rorschach. This is where the examiner considers the reasons why you see what you see. What inkblot features helped determine your response and how? There are six broad categories of inkblot determinants you could be responding to: ColorFormMovementPairs and Reflections Shading For example, if you report seeing a flower in Card 8 because of the red color, your examiner may code that response as Color determinant. Each category has its own subcategories and there are at least 26 possible determinant codes. More than one determinant can be used in a single response. Interpretation of the Rorschach Inkblot Test Interpreting a Rorschach record is a complex process. It requires a wealth of knowledge concerning personality dynamics generally as well as considerable experience with the Rorschach method specifically. In addition to formal scores, Rorschach interpretation is also based on behaviors expressed during the testing, patterns of scores across responses, unique or consistent themes in the responses, and unique or idiosyncratic perceptions. A relatively fast response might indicate being at ease with others and comfortable with social relationships. A delayed response, however, might reveal that the individual struggles with social interactions. Criticisms of the Rorschach Inkblot Test Despite its popularity, the Rorschach is a controversial test. Many of the criticisms center on how the test is scored and whether the results have any diagnostic value. Multiple Scoring Systems Before 1970, there were as many as five scoring systems that differed so dramatically that they essentially represented five different versions of the test. In 1974, John Exner published a comprehensive new scoring system that combined the strongest elements of the earlier systems. The Exner scoring system is now the standard approach used in the administration, scoring, and interpretation of the Rorschach test. Some experts caution, however, that since the Exner scoring system contains errors, clinicians might be prone to over-diagnosing psychotic disorders if they rely heavily on Exner's system. Lacks Reliability Another key criticism of the Rorschach is that it lacks reliability. Reliability means you get the same results no matter who is scoring the test. Scoring relies heavily on examiner interpretation. Because of this, two examiners can arrive at two very different conclusions when looking at the same person's responses. Poor Validity In addition to early criticism of the inconsistent scoring systems, detractors also find fault with its validity. In other words, does it measure what it claims to measure? In this case, can the Rorschach correctly assess your personality characteristics and emotional functioning? Unfortunately, the answer is a resounding no. Research shows the Rorschach is most often unable to accurately diagnose most psychological disorders, including depression, anxiety, or personality disorders. However, research shows that it does have value for assessing thought disorders and schizophrenia-related symptoms. Because all of these issues, in 1999, several psychologists recommended a moratorium on the use of the test for clinical and forensic purposes—at least until further research determined its real validity. Is the Rorschach Still Used? Today, some psychologists dismiss the Rorschach as merely a relic of psychology's past, a pseudoscience on par with phrenology. However, though the inkblot test may not be a perfect tool, it continues to be used widely, particularly for diagnosing schizophrenia—which was Rorschach's original intent for the test. The test is used in a variety of settings, such as in schools, hospitals, and courtrooms. What Is a Personality Test? 7 Sources Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. American Psychological Association. APA Psychological Test Collection. Wood JM, Lilienfeld SO, Nezworski MT, Garb HN, Allen KH, Wildermuth JL. Validity of Rorschach Inkblot scores for discriminating psychopaths from nonpsychopaths in forensic populations: A meta-analysis. Psychological Assessment. 2010;22(2):336-349. doi:10.1037/a0018998 Exner JE Jr. The Rorschach: A Comprehensive System. Vol 1. 1st ed. Wiley; 1974. Mukheriee, T, Chatterjee, S. Revisiting the Rorschach Controversy: The Rorschach Test- A Ghost of the Past or a Bearer of further promise?. SIS Journal of Projective Psychology & Mental Health. 2019;26(2):118-127. Wood JM, Lilienfeld SO, Garb HN, Nezworski MT. The Rorschach test in clinical diagnosis: a critical review, with a backward look at Garfield (1947). J Clin Psychol. 2000;56(3):395-430; discussion 431-434. doi:10.1002/(sici)1097-4679(200003)56:3<395::aid-jclp15>3.0.co;2-o Mihura JL, Meyer GJ, Dumitrascu N, Bombel G. The validity of individual Rorschach variables: systematic reviews and meta-analyses of the comprehensive system. Psychol Bull. 2013;139(3):548-605. doi:10.1037/a0029406 Garb HN. Call for a Moratorium on the Use of the Rorschach Inkblot Test in Clinical and Forensic Settings. Assessment. 1999;6(4):313-318. doi:10.1177/107319119900600402 Additional Reading Gurley JR. Essentials of Rorschach assessment: Comprehensive system and R-PAS. Essentials of Psychological Assessment. 2017;372. Lee L. The Name’s Familiar Mr. Leotard, Barbie, and Chef Boyardee. First Edition. Pelican; 1999. Mondal A, Kumar M. Rorschach inkblot test and psychopathology among patients suffering from schizophrenia: A correlational study. Ind Psychiatry J. 2021;30(1):74-83. doi:10.4103/ipj.ipj_74_20 O’Roark AM, Exner JE, eds. History and directory: Society for Personality Assessment fiftieth anniversary. Routledge; 2013. Teles RV. Hermann Rorschach: From klecksography to psychiatry. Dement Neuropsychol. 2020;14(1):80-82. doi:10.1590/1980-57642020dn14-010013 Watkins CE, Campbell VL, Nieberding R, Hallmark R. Contemporary practice of psychological assessment by clinical psychologists. Prof Psychol Res Pr. 1995;26(1):54-60. doi:10.1037/0735-7028.26.1.54 Wood JM, Nezworski MT, Garb HN. What’s right with the Rorschach? The Scientific Review of Mental Health Practice. 2003;2(2):142-146. By Kendra Cherry, MSEd Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book." See Our Editorial Process Meet Our Review Board Share Feedback Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! What is your feedback? Other Helpful Report an Error Submit Speak to a Therapist Online Advertiser Disclosure × The offers that appear in this table are from partnerships from which Verywell Mind receives compensation.