How to Interpret the Rorschach Test? (+3 Common Criticisms)

This guide discusses the Rorschach test, it’s history, administration, interpretation and scoring of Rorschach.

Rorschach inkblot test is a famous test known by many people. In this test, people respond by looking at ambiguous inkblot images and give a description of what they see. The test is often depicted as a way of disclosing a person’s unconscious thoughts, desires, and motives. It frequently emerges in popular culture.

In 1921, a Swiss psychologist named Hermann Rorschach developed the Rorschach inkblot test which is a type of projective psychological test. It is used to evaluate personality and emotional functioning. After MMPI-2, it is the second most commonly used forensic test. In 1995, a survey including 412 clinical psychologists was carried out by the American psychological association (APA). The findings of the survey showed that eighty-two per cent of clinical psychologists used the Rorschach inkblot test at least occasionally.

History of Rorschach

Rorschach was not the first person to propose that hidden aspects of an individual’s personality might be revealed by that person’s interpretation of an ambiguous and vague scene. A variety of influences may have inspired him to develop his famous test.

When Rorschach was a boy, he had a great admiration for the art of making images from inkblots also known as Klecksography. With the passage of time Rorschach grew a joint interest in psychoanalysis and art. He published papers that analyze the artwork of mental patients. These papers suggested that the art produced by mental patients could be used to know more about their personalities.

In 1896, a game was created that comprised of inkblot monsters. These were used then as triggers for stories or verse. In order to test creativity, Alfred Binet had also investigated the idea of using inkblots. He also originally planned to use inkblots in his intelligence tests.

Rorschach was probably inspired by both of his childhood hobbies and his studies of dream symbolism by Sigmund Freud. As a result, he started to create an organized and efficient approach to using inkblots as an assessment tool.

Development of the Rorschach Inkblot Test

Rorschach studied more than 400 subjects. Among these 300 were mental patients and 100 were control subjects. He then developed his approach on the basis of this study. He wrote a book in 1921 called Psychodiagnostik. In this book, he put forward ten inkblots that he carefully chose as having high diagnostic value. The book also included his approach to scoring the responses of the test. While developing the test, Rorschach’s intention was not to create a general use projective personality test. Instead, his goal was to develop a test that could be used in order to diagnose schizophrenia.

Rorschach died at the age of 37 unexpectedly just one year after the publication of his text. His book got little success. A huge variation of scoring systems appeared after the publication of the book. This test was developed to be one of the most commonly used psychological tests

Working of Rorschach Inkblot Test

For understanding the working of the Rorschach test, it is vital to first understand what it consists of and how can we administer it.

Ten inkblot images are present in the Rorschach test. Out of these ten inkblot images, some are black, white, or grey and some are coloured. Each of the ten cards is shown to the respondent by a psychiatrist or a psychologist who has proper training in the usage, scoring, and interpretation of the test.

During the test, these psychologists or psychiatrists show each of the ten cards to the subject one by one. The therapist then asked the subject to explain what he or she thinks when they look at the card.

The subjects have permission to hold the card in any position they want. They are allowed to hold it upside down or sideways. The subjects are also allowed to interpret the vague image in any way they like. They may respond by saying that they see one object or several different objects or that they can even say they cannot see anything at all. The image may be seen as a whole by the subject. He or she can focus on some features of the image or even on the white space that is present around the image.

After the subject has given a response, the psychologist will inquire additional questions from the subject in order to get an elaborate explanation of his or her initial impressions. The subject is also rated by the psychologist on a huge number of variables like whether he or she looked at the whole image or not. All these observations are interpreted and assembled into the profile of the person.

Factors to be considered while interpretation

While analyzing the Rorschach test, many factors are kept in mind by the interpreters. These factors are very important along with the actual content of the responses. Following are some of the factors that interpreters look at:

How the image is described by the respondents. The scoring for certain responses that are common on each card consist of a code that recognizes such responses.

How much time is taken by the subject long to respond? If a subject is taking a very long time before giving a response then it shows that the subject is shocked by what the image is showing them.

Determining factors that evoke a response. These factors consist of location, form, colour, and shading, which generate a response.

Comments that are unrelated or extra. Extra or unrelated comments. All the comments that are additional and are not related to the main response.

The uniqueness of the responses that are given. Some responses given by the subject are very common, while other responses may be more unique. Responses that are highly unusual are noteworthy as they might show conflicts in thought patterns.

Interpretations of the Inkblot Test

The first card that is shown in the Rorschach test is a black and white symmetrical image. The response that a subject given is described as a bat, butterfly, or moth. The common response that is given to each of the ten cards is seeing an animal or human shape. For example, the third card of the inkblot is often responded to as having two human figures that are interacting with each other. Information regarding how individuals interact with others can be obtained from the responses to this card. If a subject gives a fast response then it shows that the subject is at ease and comfortable with social associations. However, if a subject gives a delayed response, then it shows that he or she is struggling with social relationships and is not comfortable.  Some cards of inkblots contain the red colour. This is viewed as blood. Information related to how people deal with threats of harm or how they cope with anger is obtained through the responses to such cards. Many cards contain sexual imagery as well.

Use of Inkblot Test as a Diagnostic Tool

Rorschach has been in use and is very popular among psychologists. According to a survey, Rorschach is used as an assessment tool by between 43 and 77 per cent of clinical psychologists. However, one of the reviews suggested the little validity of the Rorschach test as a diagnostic instrument.

According to a Research, schizophrenia and possibly bipolar disorder and schizotypal personality disorder can be indicated through certain responses that are given to the inkblots.

Other studies propose that responses that are given to the inkblot are not related to posttraumatic stress disorder, anxiety disorders, conduct disorder, major depressive disorder, dependent personality disorder, narcissistic personality disorder, conduct disorder, or antisocial personality disorder.


Although Rorschach is a very popular test, it has received a lot of criticism. This criticism involves how the test is scored and does its results hold any diagnostic value.

1.  Criticism Related to Scoring of test

During the 1950s and 1960s, Rorschach was criticized highly due to its lacking of uniform procedures, scoring systems, and norms. Before 1970, five scoring systems were present that were so different from each other that they appeared to be five different versions of the test.

A detailed new scoring method was published by John Exner in 1973. This scoring system combined the strongest elements of the earlier systems. Today, this system is the standard approach that is used in the administration, scoring, and interpretation of the Rorschach test.

2.  Criticism related to Poor Validity and Reliability

The Rorschach is not able to accurately identify most psychological disorders. This shows the poor validity of this test. Test scoring involves a highly subjective process. It also lacks reliability. It means that the two clinicians may have a different conclusion even if they are assessing responses of the same individual.

3.  Criticism Over Diagnoses

Illnesses such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder can be diagnosed by using this test. This shows its effectiveness. However, clinicians might likely over-diagnose psychotic disorders if they highly rely on Exner’s system alone.

Inkblot Tests as a source of Useful Information

In psychotherapy and counselling, the use of this test provides a lot of information related to an individual’s feelings and functioning. This information on the concerned issues can be further explored by the therapist and client during therapy.

Despite all the criticisms, the Rorschach test is still widely used in schools, hospitals, courtrooms, and other situations. The researchers are of the view that although the test consisted of problems, it is still helpful in identifying thought disorders.

Although Rorschach is considered the remains of the psychology’s past and a pseudoscience that is similar to phrenology and parapsychology, it is still useful for identification of the illnesses such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. It is also beneficial for use in psychotherapy and counselling during which it provides a lot of information related to an individual’s feelings and functioning. This information can be further explored by the therapist and client during therapy.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can Rorschach tell about an individual’s personality?

Rorschach can tell about unconscious thoughts, feelings and motives. Rorschach is a projective test. It consists of cards with ambiguous images. The responses that an individual gives to each card tell us about his unconscious thoughts, feelings, and motives. The test indicates many personality variables such as how an individual interacts with others. Whether he is comfortable or is struggling with social interactions.

Is Rorschach a reliable test for assessing personality?

The reliability and validity of Rorschach depends on the clinician who is administrating it. If the test is administered, scored and interpreted by a trained professional then it can reveal a lot of information about an individual’s personality.

 Is Rorschach helpful in identifying mental illness?

Rorschach is very helpful in the diagnosis of mental health illness such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. This is also supported by researches that suggest that Rorschach is an effective measure in identifying Schizophrenia and other thought disorders.

Please feel free to ask any questions related to the Rorschach test and give your comments and suggestions in the comment section below.


Very Well Mind


The Rorschach in Multimethod Forensic Assessment

A Rorschach study of object representations and attachment in male adolescents with disruptive behaviours

Using the Rorschach Performance Assessment System® (R-PAS®)

The Rorschach, Basic Foundations and Principles of Interpretation Volume 1

Assessment Using the Rorschach Inkblot Test (Psychological Assessment Series)

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