Synopsis – “Inkblots”
Hermann Rorschach was a young Swiss psychiatrist who, working alone, tinkering with a children’s game, managed to create not only an enormously influential psychological test but also a visual and cultural touchstone.
Rorschach knew that he wanted to be a doctor from an early age, but at 19 he wrote to his sister: “I never again want to read just books, I want to read people … The most interesting thing in nature is the human soul, and the greatest thing a person can do is to heal these souls, sick souls.”
Inkblots had been used before to measure the imagination, particularly in children, but in his early experiments, Rorschach showed people inkblots to discover what they saw and how. As a lifelong amateur artist, he knew that while a picture itself constrains how you see it, it does not take away all your freedom.
Pictures are a tool for revealing the subconscious, encouraging self-reflection, and starting a conversation about the internal world. There are no right or wrong answers; your reaction to it is what matters – coexisting in a kind of alternate universe.
The stimulus material of the Rorschach test consists of 10 standard tables with black and white and colour symmetric amorphous (semi-structured) images.
Being asked “What do you see?” or “What might this be?”, gets at how we process the world on the most basic level – and calls upon our whole personality and range of experience.
Seeing is an act of the mind, not just the eyes. When you look at something, you are directing your attention to parts of the visual field and ignoring others.
Vision is the sense that both operate at a distance, unlike touch and taste, and can be focused and directed, unlike hearing and smell. We can pay attention to certain noises or odours or try to ignore them, but we cannot blink our ears or aim our nose: the eye is far more active, under far more control. Seeing is our best perceptual tool – our foremost way to engage with the world.