Rorschach Exposed! Doctor Posts Test Secrets on Wikipedia

By Allison Bond | July 30, 2009 12:33 pm

inkblotAre you a professional hoping to alienate others in your field? Perhaps you could try the technique used by a Canadian doctor who posted all 10 inkblots used in  Rorschach tests to Wikipedia, along with complete descriptions of the most common responses to the images.

Although some psychologists debate the usefulness of the test, which was invented in 1921, it remains the second most-used psychological test today. Many in the field worry that patients who come into the Rorschach test with preconceptions could “game” the test, resulting in a skewed diagnosis.

The New York Times reports:

For [psychologists], the Wikipedia page is the equivalent of posting an answer sheet to next year’s SAT. They are pitted against the overwhelming majority of Wikipedia’s users, who share the site’s “free culture” ethos, which opposes the suppression of information that it is legal to publish…

What had been a simmering dispute over the reproduction of a single plate reached new heights in June when [ER doctor] James Heilman…posted images of all 10 plates to the bottom of the article about the test, along with what research had found to be the most popular responses for each.

We’re not quite sure how posting the inkblots online would benefit anyone. But then, we can’t know what was going on in the doctor’s head…maybe we should recruit a couple of psychologists to figure it out.

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Image: flickr / Brian Sawyer

  • madcap

    This should be as controversial as a professional astrologer releasing star charts.

  • Jay Andrew Allen

    Didn’t William Poundstone already publish something like this in his book BIG SECRETS decades ago? What’s the big?

  • Matt M

    In the image shown, I see Dual Fidel Castros playing pattycake as an image of a jet (no doubt carrying nukes) is formed between them. Am I sane?

  • Julius

    I don’t know if an Emergency room Dr. would consider psychologists who put much stock in the Rorschach test to be “others in [his] feild”. As long as the mental health field is utilizing antiquated tests with very little evidence to support their efficacy, more people should be shinning light on these practices. When mental health embraces scientific method I’m sure others in the field of healthcare will stand and applaud, much as they are now for Dr. Heilman.

  • Chris

    “We’re not quite sure how posting the inkblots online would benefit anyone.”

    Wow. Quite the statement from a publication that values knowledge, inquiry, and DISCOVERy. Discover should probably quit posting articles about anything at all on the off chance that the information released has no edifying value.

    Or perhaps the editors believe they are the arbiters of what constitutes beneficial knowledge. Perhaps a new, dogma-heavy religion is in the works for these folks.

  • Carole S.

    When I was a Psych 101 student many, many years ago, my university, then notorious for doing “rat studies” rather than “people studies” — i.e., science vs. whatever passed for the latest touchy-feely groundless theories of neurosis — used my class as part of a large study to invalidate the Rorschach. It laid the groundwork for the later studies that, I thought, had finally put this nonsense to rest.

    Apparently not. But then, there are still Freudians out there, practicing away and taking years of patients’ money.

  • NewEnglandBob

    The mental health field has always been sick.

    Don’t get me started on Pharmapsychotherapists.

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  • Amy

    The Rorschach is still all about how honest you are about what you “see” in the picture, AND which picture you are going to speak out loud because I’ll bet that any one looking at the picture above could actually see several different things at once. If your sane or crazy you will sit and wonder “should I tell them I see a butterfly or tell them I see a person siting in a chair in front of a mirror and sneezing with their hand on the mirror?” It’s all relative, there is no scientific basis whatsoever and I hated each time I’ve had those darn things put in front of me. If I gave the most honest answer I could and said “Ink blot” they encouraged me to use my imagination “what do you SEE in the ink blot?” What a load of crap.

  • lee

    to be called sexual because i see boobs in all of them… what a rip!

  • http://msn Susan

    I see a stealth bomber……hmmmmm….what does that mean?

  • Elithian

    I read some of these posts and others in various threads on the topic. As usual we have those who think, out of sheer ignorance, that the field of psychology has nothing to offer and that psychologists, in spite of spending a lifetime doing so, know nothing about people. It is all interesting talk but crumbles like a house of cards when the first real need appears. I wish I could count all the hours I have spent with people who no one else cares about. The reality is we do what no one else wants to do but should do. It is when the natural support system fails that we become valuable.

  • PeggyM

    The ink stains are just one attempt to get into the mind of the person, a shortcut. There really is no secret other than what is in the mind of the person interpreting and the person recording the interpretation. It’s a pretty simple process made complicated by those who do not understand the focus. When a person goes in for therapy it is not because life is great; it is because there is a problem that most people are unaware of exactly and having someone look at an abstract image and state what the image looks like can give clues to the exact problem and not just the immediate problem that brought the person into therapy. It’s an ice breaker. It is entirely up to the person to be honest. If you see one thing but tell me another, at $150/hr, I got all the time in the world to figure out why you are afraid of exposing your inner mind. If you see boobs in all the pictures whether you are male or female and you are seeing me because of relationship issues, it gives us a starting point. If you honestly see just a stain with no image, that does mean there is a problem with your imagination, it just means you see a stain. Ink stains are not an indication of sanity but it uses a doorway into the workings of the mind since imagination or rather perception, makes up the majority of our reality. There is no wrong answer but in order for it to work, the person should be honest otherwise, like I said, at $150/hr, I have all the time in the world to help you figure out your problems. We can travel the long costly road of dishonesty, or the cheaper and most effective way with honesty. It’s your money that buys my time and experience. The question is not with what you see in the ink stain but how honest you are willing to be. The only secrets are your own.

  • http://qwest William

    As Carole S point out, I,too, thought Rorschach was discredited long ago. Perhaps those who still profess to believe in Rorschach and Freud should do a little research on the basis of Freud dream interpretations. These came to him while he was on cocaine highs. He spent years in Paris drying out from his cocaine addiction. Look it up. Well, yes, I guess I don’t have the focus. You see, I thought trying to fill in the gaps, trying to discern a pattern, and trying to make sense out of nonsense was a hard-wired attribute of our brain. Brain researchers see this as just part of our survival instinct (face recognition is one part). An inkblot is just an inkblot but the brain will often try to make something meaningful out of it. Seeing an inkbot as just an inkblot has nothing to do with imagination or lack thereof and has nothing to do with dishonesty. The real dishonesty is the attempt to coerce someone to see something they don’t see and then cite them for lack of imagination. Snake oil is snake oil no matter how you try to package it.

  • John Skulavik

    Like George Carlin Said: It all BS and it’s bad for you!

  • Rome

    Information is free, we should keep it that way.

  • http://Yahoo Judy

    Oh, MAN, I thought I had it all figured out and then read the blog qbout the two Castros and the Stealth, and then all I could see was the two things playing pattycake. Oh, and a Manta Ray with a short tail. I’ll have to ask my colleagues in the “field” if I have a stunted imagination, or too suggestible or too distractible, etc, etc. On the other hand, they aren’t into that either. Thank God.

  • Look at the Evidence

    The comments in this page are riddled with bias and are likely to sway readers toward the author’s viewpoint. I think a contrasting viewpoint is necessary. The direct effects of this controversy may be detrimental to many, referring to others besides those who administer and interpret the test. The availability of this information may bias an otherwise empirically validated test. For example, the utility of the Rorschach in legal situations may be compromised resulting in unethical rulings costing the public money, and potentially altering the integrity of people’s well being. Psychologists are constantly called into court to determine an individual’s ability to stand trial, and may even provide information leading to a more or less stringent jail sentence. This is but one of many scenarios; who is harmed by this? Only the test administrators? I think not. Would additional means of similar assessment be useful, as mentioned in this discussion? definitely! However, these do not sprout overnight. Consider this, the Rorschach is bolstered by some 2,000 peer reviewed journal articles. As for freedom of information, I am all for freedom of information. However, consider this analogy: Like a physician, a psychologist uses tools which are only properly used and interpreted with years of training and experience. For example, like a physician may interpret an fMRI, a psychologist may interpret the results of a psychological measure. The difference is that an fMRI machine cannot be put on the internet and subsequently be used and interpreted, whereas the placement of a psychological measure on the internet can be used improperly. Sure, this aids in the dissemination of knowledge; however, I think that we should be asking ourselves, does the placement of this information online outweigh the financial costs toward society as a whole? Or, does the placement of this information on the internet drastically alter someone’s life? I know that if a crime had been committed against me or my family, and I was made aware that the guilty party had coached themselves online on how to portray themselves favorably in a forensic psychological exam, that I would be disheartened. Just food for thought.

  • Rob

    Current interpretations of the Rorschach are based on scholarly, evidenced based, statistically validated techniques, and NOT Freudian interpretations. Check your research…

  • Mike

    Dr. James Heilman of Moose Jaw. Canada posted the Rorsach ink blots online for one reason only, attention. The fact of the matter is the man is an E.R. physician in a small town in the middle of nowhere that is part of Canadian universal health care.

    He has via Wikipedia either made or tactitly and overtly approved of numerous “contributions” which are blatantly incorrect or psychologically harmful.

    1.He reposted a photograph of an overweight child and her playmates that was taken surreptiously on a school playground on the Wikipidia article on childhood obesity.

    2.He expressed an overt desire to post images of a starving girl “not nude but with ribs and arms showing” (sic) on the anorexia nervosa article.

    3.The anorexia nervosa article contained blatant factual errors in regard to treatment.

    4. In the ADHD he expressed a blatant misunderstanding of such commonplace medical terms as “etiology” and “pathophysiology”.

    In response to his gross ineptitude and the blatant psychological harm caused by this individual I rewrote the anorexia nervosa article, I have a ninth grade education obtained growing up a ward of the state. If somebody of with my limited education can write a more knowledgable and helpful article on the deadliest pstchiatric disorder it dosen’t say much for this individuals abilities or judgement.

  • Mike

    And I can’t type worth a crap.


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