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People V. Rorschach August 5, 2009

Posted by Jarrah H in Random.
Tags: , ,

Many of you may have heard about the recent uproar created when Canadian Dr. James Heilman posted the 10 original Rorschach inkblot plates to Wikipedia after their copyright ran out in the States. The furor reached a large audience after the New York Times ran a long article chronicling the argument between Wikipedia and psychologists who are angry that publishing the plates will provide a “cheat sheet” for patients taking the test.

Having to take all those personality and career aptitude tests in career planning class made me want to know more about how the tests were created. I just finished reading Annie Murphy Paul’s book The Cult of Personality, which devotes a chapter to the creation of the Rorschach test, so I was really excited to read about the debate going on around the inkblots.

It seems like there are a couple of issues here. First, there’s the issue of whether withholding knowledge from people is acceptable to prevent “cheating” on the test. I’m definitely going to take a stand against censorship on this one. Knowledge isn’t innately dangerous.  As Dr. Heilman points out in the New York Times:

“If someone had previous knowledge of the [Snellen eye chart, which begins with a big letter E and is available on Wikipedia],” he said, “you can go to the car people, and you could recount the chart from memory. You could get into an accident. Should we take it down from Wikipedia?”

It certainly seems to me that the Rorschach publishers threatening lawsuits are more concerned about their ability to keep profiting off selling the plates than they are about people faking results. If anything, taking this information away from the sole purview of “experts” is a positive step.

The second issue is whether it’s even possible to “cheat” on a test whose meaningfullness is so suspect. Let’s consider this picture (blot 7):


What do you see? I see a set of dental records taken to identify a homicide victim. This is because I just watched 3 episodes of The Closer. Apparently I’m supposed to be seeing human figures or faces. I should probably wait longer between my crime dramas and my personality tests.

A few days ago Newsweek ran an article by Wray Herbert called  “The Problem with the Rorschach Test: It doesn’t work”. Herbert outlines a 2000 report published in Psychological Science in the Public Interest that shows  that the Rorschach test has low scoring reliability, which means that since therapists disagree on how to evaluate the results, a different scorer can mean a different result. The report also found that the test is unable to accurately diagnose depression, anxiety disorders, psychopathic personality, or sexual abuse in children, despite being used for all these purposes.

Lilienfeld, Wood, and Garb, the psychologists who wrote the PSPI report, additionally published a 2005 article in Scientific American where they also discuss that the Rorschach has been shown to produce abnormal and misleading results for visible minorities.

But despite these findings, the Rorschach lived on. To show the test’s prevalence, Annie Murphy Paul cites a 2001 survey of American psychologists that found that 44% of psychologist-conducted child custody evaluations used the Rorschach to help make determinations, and around 2004 32% of U.S. psychologists were using the test in criminal forensic evaluations.

Paul quotes a psychologist who calls the Rorschach the “Dracula of psychological tests, because no one has been able to drive a stake through the cursed thing’s heart.” Maybe a Canadian Doctor and Wikipedia are helping us gather enough garlic to push it back into the shadows for good.


1. Mike - April 16, 2010

Where does a misanthropic myopic doctor get off, “raising the bar” especially a doctor who expresses interest in posting;
“but a picture of someone (preferably a girl, seeing as they suffer form the disorder more often than guys) with the disorder (not nude, but at least with arms and rib cage visible) would definitely improve the article. MichaelExe (talk) 22:24, 14 November 2009 (UTC)

Agree Doc James (talk · contribs · email) 23:00, 16 January 2010 (UTC)

He gets off on calling himself “Doc James” and disseminating blatant medical and psycholgical misinformation over the internet via Wikipedia, the guy doesn’t even have a basic grasp of medical terminology e.g. etiology vs pathophsiology.

This is the kind of crap he writes; “and some cases of adult ADHD, biological active chemicals in the brain are in the state of equilibrium and disequilibrium.[citation needed](sic).

2. Mike - April 16, 2010
3. Mike - April 16, 2010

Here Dr. James Heilman gives his tacit approval of telling people what there prognosis for anorexia nervosa is;
“Anorexia is thought to have the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder, with anywhere from 6-20% of those who are diagnosed with the disorder eventually dying from related causes.[48] The suicide rate of people with anorexia is also higher than that of the general population.[49] In a longitudinal study women diagnosed with either DSM-IV anorexia nervosa (n = 136) or bulimia nervosa (n = 110) respectively who were assessed every 6 – 12 months over an 8 year period are at a considerable risk of committing suicide. Clinicians were warned of the risks as 15% of subjects reported at least one suicide attempt. It was noted that significantly more anorexia (22.1%) than bulimia (10.9%) subjects made a suicide attempt.[50]”

4. jarrahpenguin - April 16, 2010

Thanks for weighing in, Mike. Unfortunately I am nowhere near qualified to speak to Dr. Heilman’s influence on treating eating disorders. This post was more about the Rorschach test than it was about Dr. Heilman.

Mike - April 16, 2010

I realize that, I think the motivation and aberrant psychology of the person responsible for posting the inkblots, which were designed to measure aberrant behavior adds relevance to the story. Plus I just think he is an ignorant ******e.
Thank You for letting me post on your blog though,

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