How Valid is the Rorshach Inkblot Test?

Projective tests are a way of obtaining qualitative information about the patient in a therapeutic context. Most of these tests involve showing the patient an array of ambiguous stimuli (sometimes composed of stains, such as the Rorshach, or ambiguous scenes, such as the TAT) and asking them to give the first interpretation of the image that comes to mind. The idea behind such a test is to access the patient’s unconscious motivations or attitudes, which is considered to be less likely should the therapist ask for the interpretation of a clear stimulus. In this blog entry, I will focus on one of the most famous projective tests: the Rorshach Inkblot test.

The Rorshach Inkblot test consists of showing the patient 10 symmetrical inkblots printed in separate cards, 5 of which include color, and 5 of which are in black and white. Clients are handed the cards one by one and asked to describe what is represented in each of them. Scoring involves assessing the client’s interpretation of the content of the pictures (e.g. food, people, animals), the location (seeing the whole inkblot as a picture or just one part of it), and determinants (movement, color, shading) (Lilienfeld et. Al, 2000).

Example of an inkblot from the Rorshach

Despite the common use of the Rorshach, some consider that the scientific evidence for its validity is weak. For instance, the Rorshach has been accused of being ill-suited for use with minorities and people of different cultures. This is mostly reflected in studies showing that several minorities (Blacks, Hispanics, Native Americans) tend to score differently in the test than white Americans (Wood & Lilienfeld, 1999). Moreover, the scoring reliability of this test is not well-established: only about half of the variables (motivation, response tendencies, aggression, etc.) are deemed to have a reliability of .85 or higher (Acklin, McDowell, Verschell, & Chan, 2000). This means that although some variables of the Rorshach seem to be fairly reliable, almost half of them are not. Test-retest reliability, or the degree to which scores are similar from one testing occasion to other, also seems very inconsistent for the Rorshach, as it can range anywhere from .3 to .9 (Meyer, 1997).

But to what degree is the Rorshach an effective diagnostic tool? According to some, it is not. For instance, the test allegedly fails at showing any relationship to Major Depressive Disorder, Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, anxiety disorders, psychopathy, and a number of other forms of pathology (Wood, Lilienfeld, et al., 2000). However, it would seem that this test is in fact useful at identifying schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and borderline personality disorder. Thus, the Rorshach may be suited to the diagnosis of some specific psychological disorders, but perhaps not all of them.

So, should we use the Rorshach or not? Given the inconsistent literature on its validity, the Association of Psychological Science recommends clinicians to be very selective in their uses of this test, and encourages them to rely on more valid methods whenever possible.

Sources

Acklin, M.W., McDowell, C.J., Verschell, M.S., & Chan, D. (2000). Interob- server agreement, intraobserver reliability, and the Rorschach Compre- hensive System. Journal of Personality Assessment, 74, 15–47.

Association of Psychological Science (2009). Invisible Ink? What Rorschach Tests Really Tell Us.

Lilienfeld, S. O., Wood, J. M., & Garb, H. N. (2000). The Scientific Status of Projective Techniques. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 1(2), 27–66.

Wood, J.M., & Lilienfeld, S.O. (1999). The Rorschach Inkblot Test: A case of overstatement? Assessment, 6, 341–349.

Wood, J.M., Lilienfeld, S.O., Garb, H.N., & Nezworski, M.T. (2000a). The Rorschach Test in clinical diagnosis: A critical review, with a backward look at Garfield (1947). Journal of Clinical Psychology, 56, 395–430.

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