How Does the Rorschach Inkblot Test Work?: An Animated Primer

A frightening monster?

Two friendly bears?

Say what!?

As anybody with half a brain and the gift of sight knows, the black and red inkblot below resembles nothing so much as a pair of gnomes, gavotting so hard their knees bleed.

...or perhaps it’s open to interpretation.

Back in 2013, when Open Culture celebrated psychologist Hermann Rorschach’s birthday by posting the ten blots that form the basis of his famous personality test, readers reported seeing all sorts of things in Card 2:

A uterus

Lungs

Kissing puppies

A painted face

Little calfs

Tinkerbell checking her butt out in the mirror

Two ouija board enthusiasts, summoning demons

Angels

And yes, high-fiving bears

As Rorshach biographer Damion Searls explains in an animated Ted-ED lesson on how the Rorschach Test can help us understand the patterns of our perceptions, our answers depend on how we as individuals register and transform sensory input.

Rorshach chose the blots that garnered the most nuanced responses, and developed a classification system to help analyze the resulting data, but for much of the test’s history, this code was a highly guarded professional secret.

And when Rorshach died, a year after publishing the images, others began administering the test in service of their own speculative goals—anthropologists, potential employers, researchers trying to figure out what made Nazis tick, comedians…

The range of interpretative approaches earned the test a reputation as pseudo-science, but a 2013 review of Rorshach’s voluminous research went a long way toward restoring its credibility.

Whether or not you believe there’s something to it, it’s still fun to consider the things we bring to the table when examining these cards.

Do we see the image as fixed or something more akin to a freeze frame?

What part of the image do we focus on?

Our records show that Open Culture readers overwhelmingly focus on the hands, at least as far as Card 2 goes, which is to say the portion of the blot that appears to be high-fiving itself.

Never mind that the high five, as a gesture, is rumored to have come into existence sometime in the late 1970s. (Rorschach died in 1922.) That’s what the majority of Open Culture readers saw six years ago, though there was some variety of perception as to who was slapping that skin:

young elephants

despondent humans

monks

lawn gnomes

Disney dwarves

redheaded women in Japanese attire

chimpanzees with traffic cones on their heads

(In full disclosure, it's mostly bears.)

Maybe it's time for a do over?

Readers, what do you see now?

Image 1: Bat, butterfly, moth

Rorschach_blot_01

Image 2: Two humans

Rorschach_blot_02

Image 3: Two humans

800px-Rorschach_blot_03

Image 4: Animal hide, skin, rug

Rorschach_blot_04

Image 5: Bat, butterfly, moth

Rorschach_blot_05

Image 6: Animal hide, skin, rug

Rorschach_blot_06

Image 7: Human heads or faces

Rorschach_blot_07

Image 8: Animal; not cat or dog

689px-Rorschach_blot_08

Image 9: Human

647px-Rorschach_blot_09

Image 10: Crab, lobster, spider,

751px-Rorschach_blot_10

View Searls’ full TED-Ed lesson here.

Related Content:

Hermann Rorschach’s Original Rorschach Test: What Do You See? (1921)

The Psychological & Neurological Disorders Experienced by Characters in Alice in Wonderland: A Neuroscience Reading of Lewis Carroll’s Classic Tale

Introduction to Psychology: A Free Course from Yale University

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in New York City for the next installment of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain, this April. Follow her @AyunHalliday.


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