This is the 2007 version. Click here for the 2017 chapter 11 table of contents.

Personality Tests

Personality tests emerged in the 1930s. Previously, psychological testing had been used to place students at the right level in school ("educational testing") or for measuring intelligence. The new personality tests of the 1930s were aimed at helping therapists determine a client's problems, as a guide to treatment. As a side-benefit, they provided a way for researchers to measure personality traits or tendencies. One of the first such tests was the inkblot test or Rorschach. It is still one of the most widely used personality tests.

Hermann Rorschach, when he was a little boy growing up in Germany, enjoyed a game of interpreting inkblots. Children would get a few pieces of paper, fold them down the middle, and put a drop of ink in the middle of each, on the fold. Then they would flatten the folded paper, spreading the ink inside it. When the paper was unfolded, it contained a symmetrical ink design which often "looked like something" the same way clouds often "look like something," requiring only a bit of imagination.

Where did Rorschach get the idea for his test?


Rorschach and a sampling of inkblots

When Rorschach was a young man, he needed to develop a psychological test, and he remembered the inkblot game of his childhood. He prepared a series of inkblots and had them professionally reproduced. He found that people asked to interpret the inkblots (to say what they looked like) gave different answers that seemed to reflect their state of mind. For example, somebody who said the uppermost of the three inkblots looked like "a monster coming to get me" might reveal fear, while a different person might see a less threatening image, revealing some other emotion.

What is a projective test, and what does the name mean?

This type of test is called a projective test because the person taking it has to come up with an interpretation. The interpretation is a "projection" of the person's own mental processes onto the picture, which has no pre-assigned meaning. Given enough data, a computer can pick out correlations between certain types of answers and certain types of mental problems or conflicts. However, that is true of any type of test. Given enough data, a computer can find correlations that allow predictions. Because the Rorschach has been used for so long, a great deal of data has been gathered to correlate with results of the test with various mental disorders, so the test can provide useful predictive information.


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