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


Kiss­ing pup­pies

A paint­ed face

Lit­tle calfs

Tin­ker­bell check­ing her butt out in the mir­ror

Two oui­ja board enthu­si­asts, sum­mon­ing demons


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


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


Image 2: Two humans


Image 3: Two humans


Image 4: Ani­mal hide, skin, rug


Image 5: Bat, but­ter­fly, moth


Image 6: Ani­mal hide, skin, rug


Image 7: Human heads or faces


Image 8: Ani­mal; not cat or dog


Image 9: Human


Image 10: Crab, lob­ster, spi­der,


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.

by | Permalink | Comments (2) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (2)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.
  • Dr. Patricia A. Farrell says:

    Pring­ing these cards is con­sid­ered to be UNETHICAL since it com­pro­mis­es the inegri­ty of the test.

  • Steven James Roberts says:

    For your test I would like an eval­u­a­tion of my answers with what I can see your pic­tures.

    1) Two ani­mals look like ele­phants hold­ing some type of object like a large Bell or jar.

    2) two ani­mals hold­ing top of a lamp which is in-between the two ani­mals, and two mer­maids above them.

    3) two men hold­ing a tin hold­ing bags maybe trash­bags, both aroused by each oth­er because their penis’ are erect, with a love heart but­terfy in-between them.

    4) two rocky cliffs com­bined.

    5) a moth or but­ter­fly rest­ing because the wings are fac­ing down instead of spread out.

    6) it’s a dia­gram of a dis­gust­ing vagi­na with some type of swob slid­ing inside.

    7) a lamp upside down.

    8) it’s an ani­mal look­ing at it’s reflec­tion in a lake.

    9) it’s a lamp upside down with dif­fer­ent colour smoke com­ing from it.

    10) a bunch of jel­ly sweets upside down, shaped like ani­mals in dif­fer­ent flavours.

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.