Tuesday, February 14, 2017

The Inkblots: Hermann Rorschach, His Iconic Test, and the Power of Seeing

The Inkblots: Hermann Rorschach, His Iconic Test, and the Power of Seeing

by Damion Searls

I'll admit it. The most contact I have had with the Rorschach test was thanks to The Watchmen. I vaguely understood that it was a psychoanalytical test from the same time period as Freud and Jung, and always kind of figured it was like their theories; right on the edge of reaching too far.  I don't know that my views have changed much after reading this book, but it was fascinating none-the-less.

The Inkblots consists of two parts: a biography of Hermann Rorschach and a historical exploration of the test itself, most specifically in America. The biographical section relies heavily on Rorschach's letters where he expresses his ever-evolving feelings towards this thing he creates. This wasn't just a personality test for him, it was a diagnostic tool for mental illnesses. His thought processes that created the images themselves, as well as the hours of testing and retesting prove how convinced he was of the tests veracity. His death was sudden, and occurred well before his book was first published so he wasn't able to see how the test changed when put into the hands of others.

He created a tool that is so subjective that there have been fights for decades over how you are actually supposed to even score the results. What is the difference between someone saying an image looks like a bird or a spider? Or someone who goes into detail versus someone who is brief? One of the most interesting case studies was of the Nuremberg detainees, and how normal their test results were. The most compelling evidence given to support the test being effective are the "blind test" results, as well as a few anecdotal stories showing the Rorschach as the only test that was about to crack a particular case.

Overall, I don't know that I have a much better understanding of why the test is used so widely, or even why it works at all. However, I do have a firm sense of how it can be used incorrectly simply because it is so subjective and the intense level of bureaucracy that is involved in psychological testing. I'm glad I read this book, but I'm not sure I'm coming out the other side understanding the test itself much more than I did before.

Copy courtesy of Crown Publishing, via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

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