The New York Times covers the recent flap over the internet publication of the ink blots used in the Rorschach test. While the images are out of copyright and can be legally uploaded, some American psychologists are furious that the validity of the test may be compromised.
The test has been controversial since it was created and partly because of what it symbolises. It is one of the few remaining tests that are drawn from the psychoanalytic tradition and so battles over the Rorschach are always partly battles over the validity of Freudian-ideas.
You can see the influence of these ideas in how it is used. It is a type of ‘projective’ test, where participants are shown the images and then asked to give their impressions. The psychologist writes down what they make of each image and then interprets what they say and do.
These interpretations supposedly give an insight into the person’s personality, loosely framed in Freudian concepts.
The original version of the Rorschach was quite clearly hokum, but over the years the ‘comprehensive system’ was developed by psychologist John Exner which allowed independent clinicians to come to similar conclusions when assessing the same responses.
Not everyone agrees on this and, on the basis of evidence reviews, some argue that the test’s reliability has been exaggerated. But the trouble is, even if it is reliable, it’s still a bit rubbish. It doesn’t seem to correlate well with other mental health measures and has a particular tendency to ‘diagnose’ schizophrenic tendencies in perfectly healthy people.
While the release of the ink blots onto the internet seems to have caused controversy among US psychologists, most European psychologists are likely to be rolling their eyes, as the test never caught on and is largely extinct.
However, the wider issue of test material being released online is of significant concern.
Almost every psychological test relies on the fact that the person being assessed has no foreknowledge of the material. In technology terms, they rely on security through obscurity for their validity.
Currently, this is enforced by the test companies only supplying tests to qualified professionals, charging excessively high prices for each one and enforcing copyright. This is backed up by professional organisations who come down like a ton of bricks on anyone seen to be promoting wider availability.
As anyone involved in security will tell you, this model is doomed to failure in the age of the internet as it only takes one significant breach for the test to be publicly available.
Psychologists need to start designing tests where knowledge of the test material does not have such a profound influence on performance, but unfortunately, this requires a significant shift in current thinking and a huge research effort to validate the tests. Hence inertia weds us to our current doomed methods.
Link to NYT ‘A Rorschach Cheat Sheet on Wikipedia?’