Hermann Rorschach, M.D.


Test Developed:
Rorschach Inkblots

rorschach.GIF (5952 bytes)


Hermann Rorschach was born on November 8, 1884, in Zurich, Switzerland. According to Ellenberger (1954, p. 175) young Rorschach was raised "in an atmosphere of extraordinary intellectual, artistic, and cultural concentration." He studied medicine in Zurich, Nuremberg, Bern, and Berlin. Specializing in psychiatry, Rorschach came into contact with and was influenced by members of the psychoanalytic community in Switzerland, including Carl Jung. Jung had pioneered the study of word association testing as a means of tapping unconscious material, and Rorschach, too, had experimented with this procedure.

During his studies, Rorschach had met a Russian whom he married. At the end of 1913, Rorschach left his position in a Swiss mental asylum and moved with his wife to Russia, where he worked in a private clinic. But by July 1914, Rorschach had returned to Switzerland, where he served as an assistant director at a regional asylum. Rorschach’s wife was detained from leaving the country by a declaration of war and did not rejoin him in Switzerland until the spring of 1915. Mrs. Rorschach’s explanation for her husband’s return to Switzerland was that "in spite of his interest in Russia and the Russians, he remained a true Swiss, attached to his native land.... He was European and intended to remain so at any price" (cited in Pichot, 1984, p. 591). Also during this time, Rorschach had developed an academic interest in the psychology of Swiss cults.

Complementing Rorschach’s interest in psychoanalysis was an interest in art and drawing—"an interest that perhaps stemmed from the fact that his father had been a teacher of art and drawing. By 1913, Rorschach had published papers on analyzing mental patients’ artwork as a means of learning more about the personality. The potential sources of inspiration for the use of inkblots as a means to study personality were many. Alfred Binet had reported on experimentation with inkblots as a test of creativity in the early twentieth century. Even before that, in Germany, Justinius Kerner had published Kleksographien, a book of inkblot-inspired poems in 1857. Kerner, a physician and "a painter of repute" (Pichot, 1984) had produced inkblots "through chance" by folding a piece of paper on which some ink had been dropped. He then wrote poems inspired by each of the inkblots. The published book was well received in German-speaking countries and was, as Pichot (1984) speculates, known to Rorschach.

Rorschach appreciated how inkblots could be employed to elicit responses "determined by the peculiarities of perception which, in turn, were dependent upon the underlying structure of the personality" (Pichot, 1984, p. 595).

His "form interpretation test" was described in Psychodiagnostics (Rorschach, 1942),  a research monograph that described a "form interpretation experiment" with 405 subjects. As Acklin and Oliveira-Berry (1996) have observed, "It seems unlikely that Rorschach’s book... is even read" (p. 27). Contemporary readers are likely to find this seminal work "a densely written piece couched in dry, scientific terminology" with an English translation that "reads in a wooden, perhaps overly literal rendering" (Acklin & Oliveira-Berry, 1996, p. 428). Here is a sample of the writing, an excerpt in which apperception is distinguished from perception:

Perceptions arise from the fact that sensations, or groups of sensations, ecphorize memory pictures of former groups of sensations within us. This produces in us a complex of memories of sensations, the elements of which, by virtue of their simultaneous occurrence in former experiences, have a particularly fine coherence and are differentiated from other groups of sensations. In perception, therefore, we have three processes: sensation, memory, and association. This identification of a homogeneous group of sensations with previously acquired analogous complexes, together with all their connections, we designate as apperception. (Rorschach, 1942, pp. 16–"17)

In his monograph, Rorschach described only the determinants of movement, color, and form. As evidenced by a posthumously published article, Rorschach (Rorschach & Oberholzer, 1923) became interested in the shading determinant as the result of what has been described as a "serendipitous printing error" (Kleiger, 1997). Subsequent to the publication of Rorschach’s Psychodiagnostics, a number of scoring systems emerged—"all more complex than Rorschach’s—"along with a fair amount of debate over which approach is most useful (see, for example, Acklin, 1995; Aronow et al., 1995; Ritzler, 1995).

Rorschach’s monograph had the effect of creating a cottage industry within the mental health field, yet it was not at all a success at the time of its publication. Rorschach died suddenly at the age of 38, one year after his book was published. The impact of Psychodiagnostics continues to capture the imagination as assessment professionals the world over strive to better understand humans’ "capacity for experiencing" (Rorschach, 1942, p. 183) through the use of Rorschach’s form interpretation test.


References

Acklin, M. W. (1995). Avoiding Rorschach dichotomies: Integrating Rorschach interpretation. Journal of Personality Assessment, 64, 235–"238.

Acklin, M. W. & Oliveira-Berry, J. (1996). Return to the source: Rorschach’s Psychodiagnostics. Journal of Personality Assessment, 67, 427–"433.

Aronow, E., Reznikoff, M., & Moreland, K. L. (1995). The Rorschach: Projective technique or psychometric test? Journal of Personality Assessment, 64, 213–"228.

Ellenberger, H. F. (1954). The life and work of Hermann Rorschach (1884–"1922). Bulletin of the Menninger Clinic, 18, 173–"213.

Kleiger, J. H. (1997). Rorschach shading responses: From a printer’s error to an integrated psychoanalytic paradigm. Journal of Personality Assessment, 69, 342–"364.

Pichot, P. (1984). Centenary of the birth of Hermann Rorschach. (S. Rosenzweig & E. Schriber, Trans.). Journal of Personality Assessment, 48, 591–"596.

Ritzler, B. (1995). Putting your eggs in the content analysis basket: A response to Aronow, Reznikoff and Moreland. Journal of Personality Assessment, 64, 229–"234.

Rorschach, H. (1942). Psychodiagnostics: A diagnostic test based on perception (P. Lemkau & B. Kronenberg, Trans.). Berne, Switzerland: Hans Huber.

Rorschach, H., & Oberholzer, E. (1923). The application of the interpretation of form to psychoanalysis. Journal of Nervous and Mental Diseases, 60, 225–"248, 359–"379.

 



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