Hermann Rorschach

Personality Through Inkblots


Hermann Rorschach was born on November 8th, 1884, in Zurich, Switzerland, and was the oldest son of a failed artist who made a living as an art teacher. Even as a young child, Rorschach was fascinated with inkblots (probably the result of his father’s artistic endeavors and his own passion for art), and in secondary school, he went by the nickname “Klex,” which literally meant “inkblot.” When Rorschach was twelve years old, his mother died, and when he was eighteen years old, his father died.

Following high school, which he graduated from with honors, Rorschach went to college to earn a medical degree. In 1912, Rorschach earned his MD from the University of Zurich and began working in various mental institutions.

In 1911, while training at the University of Zurich, Rorschach performed experiments on schoolchildren using inkblots to see if those children that were more gifted artistically were also more imaginative when it came to their interpretations of the inkblots. This would prove to not only have a dramatic impact on Rorschach’s studies, but also on the entire eld of psychology. While Rorschach was not the first to incorporate inkblots into his work, this experiment was the first time inkblots were significantly used in an analytical approach. The results of this experiment have since been lost, but for the next ten years, Rorschach conducted research in an effort to create a consistent method that would lead to the understanding of personality traits by simply using inkblots.

Because he was employed at a mental hospital, Rorschach had easy access to patients. Along with using mentally and emotionally stable and healthy individuals, Rorschach was able to create a systematic test using inkblots that could analyze a person and give significant results on their personality traits.

In 1921, Rorschach presented his work with the publishing of his book, Psychodiagnostik. In his book, Rorschach also goes over his own theories of personality. One of his main arguments is that all people have a mixture of introversive and extratensive personalities —they are motivated by both internal and external influences. Rorschach believed that through the inkblot test, the relative amount of these personality traits could be measured, which could help reveal any mental abnormalities or strengths.

When Rorschach’s book first came out, it was largely ignored by the psychiatric community because the common belief at that time was that personality could not be measured or tested. By 1922, psychiatrists began seeing the benefits of Rorschach’s test, and Rorschach discussed improving the test at a meeting of the Psychoanalytic Society. On April 1st, 1922, after a week of suffering from abdominal pains, Rorschach was admitted into the hospital for appendicitis. On April 2nd, 1922, Hermann Rorschach died. He was only thirty-seven years old and never got to see the success of his inkblot test.

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