Hermann Rorschach

Hermann Rorschach Biography.com

Hermann Rorschach was a Swiss psychoanalyst who created the controversial Rorschach Inkblot Test to measure social behavior.


Psychiatrist Hermann Rorschach was born in Zurich, Switzerland, on November 8, 1884. He combined his interests in psychoanalysis and art to create the controversial Rorschach Inkblot Test. In 1921, he introduced this "form interpretation experiment" in his book Psychodiagnostics. On April 2, 1922, his work came to an untimely end when he died of peritonitis at age 37 in Herisau, Switzerland.

Early Life

Hermann Rorschach was born in Zurich, Switzerland, on November 8, 1884. He lost his mother in 1897, when he was only 12 years old. Rorschach's father, who died just seven years later, was a local art teacher and encouraged the young Rorschach to express himself creatively. Psychiatrist and medical historian H.F. Ellenberger described the environment of Rorschach's upbringing as "...an atmosphere of extraordinary intellectual, artistic and cultural concentration."

In high school, Hermann Rorschach was apparently so enamored of Klecksography -- a Swiss childhood game of making pictures out of inkblots -- that friends took to calling him "Klecks."

In 1904, Rorschach headed to the Académie de Neuchâtel to study botany and geology. He spent a single term there before taking a French class at the Université de Dijon. Rorschach next enrolled in medical school at the University of Berne in 1904. Specializing in psychology, he fulfilled his studies in Zurich, Nuremberg and Berlin, eventually graduating from the University of Zurich, in 1909.

In 1910, he married a Russian woman named Olga Stempelin, a classmate from medical school.

Early Career

In 1913, Rorschach left his job at a mental institution in Switzerland and moved to Russia with his wife. The following year, he moved back to Switzerland and became a resident at Waldau Psychiatric University, while awaiting the arrival of his wife, who had been temporarily detained in Russia. By 1915, he accepted a position as associate director of the Herisau Asylum.

Inkblot Test

In 1917, Rorschach became aware of Swiss psychiatrist Szyman Hens' studies using inkblot cards to analyze patients' fantasies. Rorschach was also influenced by his acquaintance and contemporary, Carl Jung, who was using word association tests to tap into the unconscious mind. Rorschach combined his interests in psychoanalysis and art to create his own controversial "Rorschach inkblot test." He was the first researcher to use inkblots to analyze how patients projected their own associations onto seemingly random stimuli.

Rorschach tested his system on 300 patients and 100 control subjects. The test was composed of 10 inkblot cards -- half of them in color, and half black and white. Patients were shown one card at a time and asked to respond while Rorschach wrote down their answers. Afterward, Rorschach showed patients the cards again and prompted them to explain their answers. Rorschach evaluated test results based on the criteria of location, quality, content and conventionality. He used the data to draw conclusions about the patient's social behavior. In 1921, Rorschach introduced his findings in a book entitled Psychodiagnostics.

Death and Legacy

On April 2, 1922, Hermann Rorschach died unexpectedly of peritonitis, in Herisau, Switzerland. He was just 37 years old. In addition to a wife and two children, Rorschach left behind the long-standing legacy of his inkblot test.

German psychologist Bruno Klopfer soon picked up where Rorschach left off, improving the test's scoring system and popularizing projective personality tests.

In the 1960s, Rorschach's inkblot test was the most prominently used projective test in the United States; it ranked eighth in the list of tests used in U.S. outpatient mental health care.

While controversial and criticized for its shortcomings, the test is still widely used in jails, hospitals, courtrooms and schools -- primarily to establish parental custody rights, determine parole eligibility and assess children's emotional issues.

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