Tag Archives: Rorschach

History of the Human Sciences Special Issue: Psychology and its Publics

It is my pleasure to direct AHP readers to a just released special issue of History of the Human Science on Psychology and its Publics, guest edited by Michael Pettit and myself. The issue includes articles tackling a diverse array of topics on psychology’s relationship with the public, including: the public psychology of sentimentalism and the guillotine during the French Revolution; the construction of an attitudinal public in concert with the development of questionnaires; the dissemination of Albert Ellis’s rational therapy via popular media forms; the public’s interaction with psychological ideas via the graphic novel Watchmen and its queer history; the function of sexual assault surveys in structuring rape’s ontology and politicizing rape as a social issue; and consideration of the ontology of the public through the lens of deliberative public opinion. Thanks to all our contributors for their wonderful and thought provoking work!

In advance of the issue’s release I was also interviewed about the rationale and aims of the special issue by History of the Human Sciences editor-in-chief Felicity Callard. Read that interview in full here.

Full titles, authors, and abstracts for the pieces in the special issue follow below.

“Psychology and its publics,” by Michael Pettit and Jacy L. Young. Abstract:

This paper introduces the special issue dedicated to ‘Psychology and its Publics’. The question of the relationship between psychologists and the wider public has been a central matter of concern to the historiography of psychology. Where critical historians tend to assume a pliant audience, eager to adopt psychological categories, psychologists themselves often complain about the public misunderstanding of them. Ironically, both accounts share a flattened understanding of the public. We turn to research on the public understanding of science (PUS), the public engagement with science (PES) and communications studies to develop a rich account of the circuitry that ties together psychological experts and their subjects.

“The unfailing machine: Mechanical arts, sentimental publics and the guillotine in revolutionary France,” by Edward Jones-Imhotep. Abstract:

This article explores how the pre-eminent public psychology of the French Revolution – sentimentalism – shaped the necessity, understanding and construction of its most iconic public machine. The guillotine provided a solution to the problem of public executions in an age of both sentiment and reason. It was designed to rationalize punishment and make it more humane; but it was also designed to guard against the psychological effects of older, more variable and unpredictable methods of public execution on a sentimental public. That public, contemporaries argued, required executions performed by an unfailing technology. Rather than focus on the role of the guillotine after 1793, the article explores how the implacable mechanical action that helped produce the Reign of Terror and multiply the cadavers of medical science was demanded by the guillotine’s origins as a sentimental machine.

“Numbering the mind: Questionnaires and the attitudinal public,” by Jacy L. Young. Abstract: Continue reading History of the Human Sciences Special Issue: Psychology and its Publics

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NBN Interview with Damion Searls on The Inkblots

The New Books Network (NBN) has just released an audio interview with Damion Searls on his newly published book The Inkblots: Hermann Rorschach, His Iconic Test, and the Power of Seeing. As NBN describes,

In his new book The Inkblots: Hermann Rorschach, His Iconic Test, and The Power of Seeing (Crown, 2017), Damion Searls presents the first biography of Hermann Rorschach and the history of the Rorschach Test. A story that is largely untold, Searls starts with the childhood of Rorschach and brings readers through his growth as a psychiatrist as he created an experiment to probe the mind using a set of ten inkblots. As a visual artist, Rorschach incorporated his ability to think about visuals and his belief that what is seen is more important than what we say. After his early death, Rorschach’s Test found its way to America being used by the military, to test job applicants, to evaluate defendants and parents in custody battles and people suffering from mental illness. In addition, it has been used throughout advertising and incorporated in Hollywood and popular culture. A tragic figure, and one of the most influential psychiatrists in the twentieth century, The Inkblots allows readers to better understand how Rorschach and his test impacted psychiatry and psychological testing. Searls’ work is eloquently written and detailed, pulling in unpublished letters, diaries and interviews with family, friends and colleagues. Searls’ well researched text presents insight into the ways that art and science have impacted modern psychology and popular culture.

The full interview can be heard online here.

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New Book: The Inkblots: Hermann Rorschach, His Iconic Test, and the Power of Seeing

A new book length account of the life and work of Hermann Rorschach,The Inkblots: Hermann Rorschach, His Iconic Test, and the Power of Seeing by Damion Searls, has just been released. As described on the publisher’s website,

In 1917, working alone in a remote Swiss asylum, psychiatrist Hermann Rorschach devised an experiment to probe the human mind: a set of ten carefully designed inkblots. For years he had grappled with the theories of Freud and Jung while also absorbing the aesthetic movements of the day, from Futurism to Dadaism. A visual artist himself, Rorschach had come to believe that who we are is less a matter of what we say, as Freud thought, than what we see.

After Rorschach’s early death, his test quickly made its way to America, where it took on a life of its own. Co-opted by the military after Pearl Harbor, it was a fixture at the Nuremberg trials and in the jungles of Vietnam. It became an advertising staple, a cliché in Hollywood and journalism, and an inspiration to everyone from Andy Warhol to Jay Z. The test was also given to millions of defendants, job applicants, parents in custody battles, and people suffering from mental illness or simply trying to understand themselves better. And it is still used today.

In this first-ever biography of Rorschach, Damion Searls draws on unpublished letters and diaries and a cache of previously unknown interviews with Rorschach’s family, friends, and colleagues to tell the unlikely story of the test’s creation, its controversial reinvention, and its remarkable endurance—and what it all reveals about the power of perception. Elegant and original, The Inkblots shines a light on the twentieth century’s most visionary synthesis of art and science.

A short interview with author Damion Searls on NPR can be heard here.

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APA Monitor Time Capsule: “Psychologist of the Nazi Mind”

Gustave Gilbert

The May 2016 issue of the American Psychological Association‘s Monitor on Psychology features a piece on Gustave Gilbert’s  role as “prison psychologist” during the Nuremberg Nazi war crimes trial. As Ian Nicholson writes,

On Oct. 20, 1945, Gustave Gilbert arrived in Nuremberg, Germany, to begin what was perhaps the most compelling assignment ever given to an American psychologist — working for the International Military Tribunal at the first Nazi war crimes trial. Fluent in German, Gilbert was given the assignment to work as a morale officer and translator. Nuremberg was a high-stakes affair, and the Allied powers wanted the trial to proceed in an orderly and dignified manner. Gilbert’s job was to keep the prisoners — Hitler’s leading henchmen — in a reasonably calm, rational state.

With the approval of his superiors, he quickly recast the position as “prison psychologist” and began studying the prisoners as well. Gilbert used all the standard psychological tools of the day — intelligence tests, Rorschach and Thematic Apperception tests. However, his preferred method was casual conversation. Gilbert befriended the prisoners, visiting them in their cells daily and chatting with them at meal times. At the end of each day, he wrote about these conversations, providing a fascinating window into the thoughts and motivations of the prisoners as they faced what they all knew was a likely death sentence.

Read the rest of the piece online here.

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New JHBS: Child Science, Ink Blots, Subconscious Conflict, & More

V. M. Bekhterev

The Spring 2016 issue of the Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences is now online. Articles in this issue explore the work of V. M. Bekhterev, patient experiences of “subconscious conflict” in prewar America, the history of the Rorschach test in Britain, and the mid-twentieth century relationship between the Carnegie Corporation and the Social Science Research Council. Full titles, authors and abstracts follow below.

“V. M. BEKHTEREV IN RUSSIAN CHILD SCIENCE, 1900S–1920S: “OBJECTIVE PSYCHOLOGY”/“REFLEXOLOGY” AS A SCIENTIFIC MOVEMENT,” by ANDY BYFORD. The abstract reads,

In the early 20th century the child population became a major focus of scientific, professional and public interest. This led to the crystallization of a dynamic field of child science, encompassing developmental and educational psychology, child psychiatry and special education, school hygiene and mental testing, juvenile criminology and the anthropology of childhood. This article discusses the role played in child science by the eminent Russian neurologist and psychiatrist Vladimir Mikhailovich Bekhterev. The latter’s name is associated with a distinctive program for transforming the human sciences in general and psychology in particular that he in the 1900s labelled “objective psychology” and from the 1910s renamed “reflexology.” The article examines the equivocal place that Bekhterev’s “objective psychology” and “reflexology” occupied in Russian/Soviet child science in the first three decades of the 20th century. While Bekhterev’s prominence in this field is beyond doubt, analysis shows that “objective psychology” and “reflexology” had much less success in mobilizing support within it than certain other movements in this arena (for example, “experimental pedagogy” in the pre-revolutionary era); it also found it difficult to compete with the variety of rival programs that arose within Soviet “pedology” during the 1920s. However, this article also demonstrates that the study of child development played a pivotal role in Bekhterev’s program for the transformation of the human sciences: it was especially important to his efforts to ground in empirical phenomena and in concrete research practices a new ontology of the psychological, which, the article argues, underpinned “objective psychology”/“reflexology” as a transformative scientific movement.

““MY RESISTING GETTING WELL”: NEURASTHENIA AND SUBCONSCIOUS CONFLICT IN PATIENT-PSYCHIATRIST INTERACTIONS IN PREWAR AMERICA,” by SUSAN LAMB. The abstract reads, Continue reading New JHBS: Child Science, Ink Blots, Subconscious Conflict, & More

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JHBS Early View: “Blots and All” a History of the Rorschach in Britain

Now available for Early View from the Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences is “Blots and All: A History of the Rorschach Ink Blot Test in Britain.” Written by Katherine Hubbard and Peter Hegarty, the article’s abstract reads,

Despite the easily recognizable nature of the Rorschach ink blot test very little is known about the history of the test in Britain. We attend to the oft-ignored history of the Rorschach test in Britain and compare it to its history in the US. Prior to the Second World War, Rorschach testing in Britain had attracted advocates and critiques. Afterward, the British Rorschach Forum, a network with a high proportion of women, developed around the Tavistock Institute in London and The Rorschach Newsletter. In 1968, the International Rorschach Congress was held in London but soon after the group became less exclusive, and fell into decline. A comparative account of the Rorschach in Britain demonstrates how different national institutions invested in the ‘projective hypothesis’ according to the influence of psychoanalysis, the adoption of a nationalized health system, and the social positioning of ‘others’ throughout the twentieth century. In comparing and contrasting the history of the Rorschach in Britain and the US, we decentralize and particularize the history of North American Psychology.

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Blog Post: UTSIC’s Projective Tests as Material Culture

UofT RorschachThe University of Toronto Scientific Instrument Collection’s Kira Lussier writes on the history of the Rorschach (and other projective tests) at UofT, and its uptake in popular culture. Read her full piece here.

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New Issue of Memorandum: Memory & History in Psychology

A new issue of the open access journal Memorandum: Memory & History in Psychology (Memorandum: Memória e História em Psicologia) is now online.  Included in this issue are six articles in Portugese and one in English. Full titles, authors, and abstracts – in both Portugese and English, where provided – follow below.

“Editorial,” by Miguel Mahfoud and Marina Massimi. No abstract provided.

“Extra! Brazilian psychology in the news in 62: brief time, lasting meanings,” by Helena Beatriz Kochenborger Scarparo, Thais de Souza Sottili, Carla Estefanía Albert and Luciana Oliveira de Jesus. The abstract reads,

O artigo busca compreender práticas psicológicas no ano da regulamentação da psicologia no Brasil. A pesquisa se baseia em matérias sobre as relações políticas, o comportamento cotidiano e a divulgação científica do jornal Correio do Povo. A coleta ocorreu no Museu de Comunicação Hipólito José da Costa, em Porto Alegre onde foi feita a seleção e fotografia de materiais referentes à psicologia. Posteriormente, foi criado um banco de dados para análise temática e discussão do material. Dentre os resultados sobressaíram-se algumas estratégias voltadas para a legitimação da área como a inserção na mídia impressa com a divulgação de cursos, pesquisas, debates e aconselhamentos. Foram evidentes as correspondências entre as práticas psicológicas explicitadas no Jornal e o contexto sócio político da época pautado pela ênfase no desenvolvimento econômico e tecnológico, pela evitação de conflitos e pela crença de que a ciência psicológica poderia promover a humanização das relações.

This research paper aims to understand the psychological practices in 1962, the year of formalization of Psychology in Brazil. The research is based on contents about political relations, behavior and science popularization in the newspaper “Correio do Povo”. Data were collected at Hipólito José da Costa Museum of Communication in Porto Alegre where all material related to psychology was selected and photographed. Afterwards, a database for analysis and material discussion was created. Among the results, some strategies oriented to the field’s legitimation stood out, as the insertion in the print media with the promotion of courses, researches, debates and advices. There was an evident correspondence between the psychological practices explained in the newspaper and the socio-political context guided by the economical and technological development emphasis, by the conflict avoidance and by the belief in the psychological science as a promoter of humanization in relationships.

“Promises of life in times of threat: women, music and resistance during the military dictatorship in Brazil,” by Ingrid Faria Gianordoli-Nascimento, Sara Angélica Teixeira da Cruz Silva, Jaíza Pollyanna Dias da Cruz, Flaviane da Costa Oliveira, Flávia Gotelip Corrêa Veloso and Laís Di Bella Castro Rabelo. The abstract reads, Continue reading New Issue of Memorandum: Memory & History in Psychology

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On Now: X-Rays of the Soul

Anyone who happens to be in the Boston area, may want to stop by the Special Exhibitions Gallery of Harvard University’s Science Center. Currently featured in the Center is a special exhibition on the history of projective tests titled, X-Rays of the Soul: Rorschach & the Projective Test. The exhibit runs until June 30, 2012 and this coming Friday, March 30th, from 5-7pm Harvard history of science professors Peter Galison and Janet Browne will host the exhibit’s official opening.

The exhibit is described on the Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments at Harvard University’s website as follows,

Beginning in 1921 with the Rorschach Inkblot Test and gaining momentum with the Thematic Apperception Test in 1935, a new breed of psychological probe aimed to reach previously inaccessible layers and levels of the unconscious self: the projective test.

Likened to X-rays of the inner life, these instruments promised to capture what no other tool could access – the secret self. The story of the triumphal rise as well as the periodic setbacks of the projective test movement is evidence of the heady confidence of the Twentieth Century human sciences to be able to extract and access the most human parts of human beings –scientifically.

From the genesis of the tests in passionate personal relationships to the recent Wikipedia furor over posting the Rorschach images, the exhibit will capture this neglected history’s equally utopian and dystopian elements.

More details on the exhibit can be found here.

via a recent post by Ben Harris on the Cheiron listserve.

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Video: Hegarty on the Rorschach & Sexuality


In this video from the University of Surrey, social psychologist and historian of psychology Peter Hegarty discusses his work on visuality in psychological science. The first research project Hegarty discusses is his historical research on the categorization of homosexuality as a mental illness, including the inclusion of homosexuality in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association from 1952 to 1973. Hegarty’s interest is in how the rise and fall of the Rorschach test as a psychological instrument related to efforts to detect and diagnose homosexuality as a mental illness during this period. He briefly charts the growing psychoanalytic influence post-WWII on the use of the Rorschach test, in conjunction with the rise of clinical psychology, as well as increasing skepticism about Rorschach test from experimental psychologists in ensuing years. Here, Hegarty recounts the story of Evelyn Hooker’s doubleblind study on the use of the Rorschach to diagnose homosexuality (previously discussed on AHP here), as part of changing standards of evidence within the discipline.

The second research project Hegarty discusses is not specifically historical, but also deals with the nature of evidence in psychology: the psychology of how people draw graphs. In this research, Hegarty investigated the composition and interpretation of graphs depicting gender differences. His review of 40 years worth of graphs of gender differences found that 75% of the time data about males was presented first and data on females presented second. This finding led Hegarty to undertake further research into how gender stereotypes might be effecting the scientific record. The full story of his findings on this subject can watched in the second half of the above video.

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