Rorschach + Wikipedia = Big Fight

Hermann RorschachHow great would the harm be if nearly everyone on earth could get free access to all of the figures from the famous Rorschach ink blot test, along with examples of the answers that would be expected? This is the topic of a new article by Noam Cohen of the New York Times.

Images of the ten ink blots have been posted to the Wikipedia entry about the test, first published by its inventor Hermann Rorschach in 1921, along with an account of the popular Exner scoring system. Although the plates are long out of copyright in the US, the outcry from some psychologists has been fervent. One has accused Wikipedia of “harming scientific research.” The president of the International Society of the Rorschach and Projective Methods has said the entry will allow people to “game” the test. The German company that licenses the test material is exploring the possibility of legal action against the foundation that owns Wikipedia. Wikipedia and its advocates, by contrast, believe in the open access of all information that can be legally distributed.

What is not contained in Cohen’s article is the possibility that no scientific harm can be caused by exposing a test that many believe to have little scientific credibility in the first place.¬† Lilienfeld, Wood, & Garb¬† published an extensive analysis of projective tests like the Rorschach in the journal Psychological Science in the Public Interest in 2000. They concluded that “the substantial majority of Rorschach and TAT indexes are not empirically supported.”

Acknowledgment: Stephen Black alerted me to the Lilienfeld et al. article in a posting on the TIPS e-mail list.

Disclaimer: Noam Cohen contacted me prior to publishing the article to ask for historical background on the Rorschach test. I told him I didn’t know much about it and suggested another person for him to consult with.

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About Christopher Green

Professor of Psychology at York University (Toronto). Former editor of the Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences. Creator of the "Classics in the History of Psychology" website and of the "This Week in the History of Psychology" podcast series.

5 thoughts on “Rorschach + Wikipedia = Big Fight

  1. I suppose I might actually be persuaded to care about this issue if I didn’t hate projective tests with a passion. And that includes the much venerated Rorschach test which I haven’t used in many years. Those critics should move on to assessment methods with actual validity.

  2. 1. I complained to Wikipedia about this more than a year ago. Their response was that the copyright had expired and they refused to remove the images.

    2. I then filed complaints with several boards and organizations in Canada and the US, including APA and CPA. They indicated they weren’t sure what they could do about it.

    3. Just because you CAN do something doesn’t mean you should do it. There is much that happens on the net that is potentially damaging in various ways (e.g., pro-ana and pro-suicide sites) but there’s little that we can do about it other than voice protests.

    4. The criticisms of the Rorshach that you and Dr. Vitelli voice need to be brought up to date. The Exner Comprehensive Method is both valid and empirically supported. No other system for using the Rorschach has that empircal and research base as a foundation. The problem is that to learn the system requires an investment of time and effot (approximately 3 months to start) that most practitioners are unwilling to give. The same is true of most other psychometric instruments, including the MMPI-2 and the Wechsler scales, but again most of my professional colleagues aren’t willing to invest the time to learn about them and fall back to the easy but more fallible and less defensible method of computerized scoring and interpretation. The moral of this story is don’t deride what you don’t understand.

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