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Hermann Rorschach

Hermann Rorschach

Swiss psychiatrist Hermann Rorschach (1884-1922) was the developer of the inkblot personality test commonly known as the Rorschach test. The ten inkblot cards designed by Rorschach in the early twentieth century have continued to be used by mental health professionals as one of the standard means of compiling a subject's personality profile.

Swiss psychiatrist Hermann Rorschach was the developer of the widely-used personality evaluation method known as the Rorschach test. The Rorschach test involves the assessment by a psychiatrist or psychologist of a subject's responses when asked what he or she sees in a series of inkblots. Rorschach believed that this method could determine the amount of introversion and extroversion a person possessed, as well as clues about such characteristics as intelligence, emotional stability, and problem-solving abilities. In addition to general use in psychiatry and psychology, the test has come to be used by a wide-range of groups such as child development specialists, the military, prisons, and employers. Although the test was Rorschach's only contribution to the field of psychiatry, the popularity of the tool has made his name one that is recognized both inside and outside the profession.

Rorschach was born on November 8, 1884, in Zurich, Switzerland. He was the oldest of the three children of Ulrich Rorschach, an art teacher in Zurich schools; he also had a sister named Anna and a brother named Paul. His father's artistic interests may have been behind the young Rorschach's fascination with inkblots in his childhood. The boy's preoccupation with these random designs earned him the name "Kleck," German for "inkblot," from his classmates at school. In his adolescence Rorschach became an orphan after his mother died when he was 12 and his father died when he was 18. A year after his father's death, the young man graduated from the local high school with honors.

Focused on Psychiatry in Medical Career

After leaving high school, Rorschach went on to college with the goal of earning a medical degree. He spent time at a number of medical schools—in Neuchâtel, Zurich, and Bern in Switzerland and Berlin in Germany— completing his studies in Zurich after five years. While taking courses in Zurich, he had been a top student of Eugene Bleuler and had worked in the university hospital's psychiatric ward. Continuing to pursue his interest in psychiatry, he undertook a residency at a mental institution in Munsterlingen, Switzerland, in 1909. At the asylum he met Olga Stempelin, a Russian employee there, and the two began a relationship that resulted in their marriage in 1910. The couple had their first child, Elizabeth, in 1917; their second child, Wadin, was born in 1919.

Rorschach earned his doctor of medicine degree from the University of Zurich in 1912. The following year, he and his wife accepted posts at a mental institution in Moscow, Russia, where they remained for one year. In 1914, Rorschach secured a job as a resident physician at the Waldau Mental Hospital in Bern, Switzerland. He advanced to a higher position two years later when he was hired at the Krombach Mental Hospital in Appenzell, Switzerland. Respected as a leading psychiatrist in his native country, he was elected vice president of the Swiss Psychoanalytic Society in 1919.

Developed Inkblot Test

As early as 1911, Rorschach had begun research on the potential uses of inkblots in determining personality traits. He had done some early experiments using schoolchildren as subjects during his medical training at the University of Zurich, and he had also read about the inkblot experiments of other psychology researchers, including Justinus Kerner and Alfred Binet. He found, however, that his predecessors in this subject had not developed a consistent method of administering and evaluating such a test. Over the next decade, Rorschach conducted studies to develop such a method, using both patients in the mental hospitals where he was employed as well as healthy, emotionally stable people. Based on the information he gathered, Rorschach was able to devise a system of inkblot testing that provided a systematic way of testing and analyzing a subject that could produce meaningful results for understanding a person's personality traits.

Rorschach presented his new system in his book Psychodiagnostik (1921), which appeared in English translation as Psychodiagnostics: A Diagnostic Test Based on Perception in 1942. The book not only outlined Rorschach's famous inkblot test, but also discussed his wider theories of human personality. One of his primary arguments was that each person displays a mixture of the "introversive" personality, one motivated by internal factors, and the "extratensive" personality, or one more influenced by external factors. He believed that the amount of each trait in a person could be measured by using his ink-blot test, which could also reveal an individual's mental strengths or their abnormalities.

Planned Improvements on Testing Method

For his inkblot test, Rorschach designed 10 cards, each with a different symmetrical inkblot pattern. The designs, while not depicting any particular objects, do contain shapes suggesting physical items. The cards also vary in color: five are only in black and white, two are primarily black and white with some color, and three are in color. The person administering the test is to show each card to the subject without displaying any reaction to the subject's answers. The subject is instructed to describe what he or she sees in the inkblot, and the subject's answers are then analyzed in several different areas, including the part of the picture focused on, the length of time to generate a response, the content of the response, originality, and the subject's attention to such details as color, shading, and form. The value and accuracy of the test were based in large part on the ability of the person administering the test to interpret the results properly. But it still presented one of the most effective means of evaluating personality ever devised. Rorschach, however, looked upon Psychodiagnostik as a preliminary work that he intended to develop further.

Rorschach's book was not immediately given much attention when it appeared. Psychiatrists at that time did not think that personality could be tested or measured, so they initially ignored his work. By 1922, however, the ideas in Rorschach's book had become the subject of some discussion, but most psychiatrists remained wary of his new methods and did not feel that they could yield useful results, although they did acknowledge the potential value for the free-association thought that the inkblots generated. Rorschach discussed his plans to improve upon his inkblot system at a meeting of the Psychoanalytic Society that year, but this work was never completed. A short time later, Rorschach contracted appendicitis and died in Herisau, Switzerland, on April 2, 1922.

Rorschach did not live to see the great success that his testing methods would enjoy. His original ten inkblot designs were put into use by his students and colleagues and quickly gained a popularity that has continued to the present time. While detractors continue to exist, numerous studies have compiled statistical data about results of the Rorschach test, providing practitioners with an even greater degree of accuracy in interpreting results. Rorschach's ink-blots are still in use in a number of areas, but those who use it now tend to look upon the results simply as indicators of potential psychiatric traits or problems, rather than an absolute diagnosis. But Rorschach's contribution to the fields of psychology and psychiatry is still considered a valuable procedure that remains one of the standard testing methods used to compile a personality profile by mental health professionals.

Further Reading

Klopfer, Bruno, and Douglas Kelley, The Rorschach Technique: A Manual for a Projective Method of Personality Diagnosis, World Book, 1942.

Larson, Cedric A., "Hermann Rorschach and the Ink-Blot Test," Science Digest, October, 1958, pp. 84-89. □

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Rorschach, Hermann

Rorschach, Hermann



Hermann Rorschach, Swiss psychologist, was born in 1884 and died in 1922. These were the exciting years when psychoanalysis came of age and gave impetus to fresh inquiry in all social and cultural areas. In the psychology of the individual, psychoanalysis revealed hitherto unfathomed aspects of the emotions. Scientific psychology was thus faced with a new challenge, the measurement of unconscious emotions. Rorschach’s famous test met this newly felt need.

Rorschach, the first of three children, was born in Zurich. When he was two years old the family moved to Schaffhausen, a commercially busy and culturally stimulating city; his father became a drawing teacher there. His mother died when he was 12 and his father when he was 18. In his final year in the Kantonschule, undecided whether to choose a career in science or art, he wrote to the biologist Ernst Haeckel (O. Rorschach 1944; Morgen-thaler 1921), who advised him to go into medicine. He began his studies in Zurich and went successively to Berlin, to Bonn, then back to the University of Zurich, where he took his degree in 1912. His dissertation on hallucinations forecast his interest in psychopathology. The research was done under Eugen Bleuler’s supervision.

In 1910 Rorschach married Olga Stemplin, a Russian, who surely had something to do with his decision, in 1913, to take a post in a sanitarium near Moscow. It was his third journey to Russia, and Olga Rorschach has described (1944) his favorable reaction to the vastness of that country, to its people, its churches, and its landscape. He had learned Russian, and he wrote a novel (unpublished) about Pushkin and later planned a work on Dostoevski. After less than a year in Russia, he returned to Switzerland. He had held posts in three mental hospitals when he was appointed as assistant director in the cantonal institute in Herisau, and he remained in this position until he died of acute peritonitis in 1922. His one important professional office was that of vice-president, in 1919, of the then newly organized Swiss Psychoanalytic Society; Emil Oberholzer was the president. Some correspondence with Morgenthaler (1965) shows how strenuously Rorschach promoted psychoanalysis in Swiss medical circles.

Rorschach was undoubtedly supported in his psychoanalytic orientation by Bleuler, who was among the first to receive Freud’s ideas sympathetically. Jung, a resident in a suburb of Zurich, was giving impetus to experimentation with free association as well as to extraversion-introversion theory. Bleuler’s psychiatry and the theories of Jung and Freud were the three principal sources of the ideas that were to crystallize in Rorschach’s test. He used psychoanalytic theory in interpreting the test record of one of Oberholzer’s patients (Rorschach & Oberholzer 1923) and also in an article on two Swiss leaders of religious sects (1927), whom he had studied before he developed the test. In this paper he traced personality changes from the introversive to the extratensive type. He anticipated his own exposition in the Psychodiagnostics ([1921] 1942, pp. 102 ff.).

Rorschach’s test clearly reflects his particular scientific preferences, powerful as the influences of Freud, Jung, and Bleuler may have been. His basic method was empirical and his temperament that of the experimentalist. Rorschach himself so described his work in the brief foreword to the Psychodiagnostics: “The entire work is predominantly empirical in character” (1921). He offered suggestions for controlled experiments, especially with regard to those two critical variables—color, indicative of acted out feelings, and movement, indicative of ideas lived in the imagination, such as wish fulfillments or daydreams ([1921] 1942, p. 58). They are the main ingredients of his Erlebnis-typus, the core of his personality concept. The ratio between the number of movement responses and the weighted value of color responses is an index of the Erlebnistypus. The ratio can change, as can also the Erlebnistypus, with the increase or reduction of either color or movement responses.

Rorschach’s broad psychological interests are reflected in his penetrating studies of some Swiss religious sects. According to Morgenthaler (1965), he was striving for a synthesis of folkways, ethnology, religion, and psychopathology in a single sociological system. Some of his most important work was done on schizophrenia.

It is intriguing to apply his personality theories to what is known of Rorschach himself. Warmth of feeling for others was one of his traits, one that he acquired chiefly from his mother, a kindly and sociable person (Ellenberger 1954). To his father he owed his aptitude for drawing, and he encouraged his patients to draw. He had many acquaintances but only a few intimate friends. According to his own Erlebnistypus concept, he would thus be introversive. However, Olga Rorschach writes, “He was constantly growing, ever expanding his Erlebnistypus, from introversion towards extraversion. He thus attained to an enviable ambiequality” (1944). And she quotes Rorschach as saying that “the ideal is the ambiequal.”

Rorschach was a venturesome explorer, and in that most taxing terrain, the human personality. While he clung to the observable, he arrived at his conclusions more by his insights than by the logic of statistics. His short life did not permit him to complete his work. But as a tool for clinical exploration as well as for general research in personality, Rorschach’s test has gone far toward meeting the challenge faced by a science of psychology.

Samuel J. Beck

[For the historical context of Rorschach’s work, seePsychoanalysisand the biographies ofBleuler; Freud; Jung. For discussion of the subsequent development of Rorschach’s ideas, seeFantasy; Projective methods, especially the article onthe rorschach test.]


(1921) 1942 Psychodiagnostics. 3d ed. Bern: Heber; New York: Grime. → First published in German.

(1923) 1924 Rorschach, Hermann; and Oberholzer, E. The Application of the Interpretation of Form to Psychoanalysis. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease 60:225–248; 359–379. → First published in German as “Zur Auswertung des Formdeutversuches fur die Psychoanalyse.” Reprinted in the 1942 edition of Rorschach 1921.

1927 Zwei schweizerische Sektenstifter. Imago 13:395–441.

1965 Gesammelte Aufsatze. Bern: Huber.


Beck Samuel J. 1963 Rorschach’s Erlebnistypus: An Empiric Datum. Schweizerische Zeitschrift für Psychologie und ihre Anwendungen, Beiheft 45:8–25.

Ellenberger, Henri 1954 The Life and Work of Hermann Rorschach (1884–1922). Menninger Clinic, Bulletin 18:173–219.

Loosli-usteri, Marguerite 1956 Addresse Presidentiale. Schweizerische Zeitschrift für Psychologie und ihre Anwendungen, Beiheft 34:15–22.

Morgenthaler, W. (1921) 1942 Biographical Sketch. Page 9 in Hermann Rorschach, Psychodiagnostics. 3d ed. Bern: Heber; New York: Grune.

Morgenthaler, W. 1965 Erinnerungen an Hermann Rorschach. Pages 95–101 in Hermann Rorschach, Gesammelte Aufsätze. Edited by K. W. Bash. Bern: Huber.

Rorschach, Olga 1944 Über das Leben und die Wesens-art von Hermann Rorschach. Schweizerisches Archiv fur Neurologie und Psychiatrie 53:1–11.

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Rorschach, Hermann (1884-1922)


Swiss psychoanalyst and creator of the projective test that bears his name, Hermann Rorschach was born in Zurich on November 8, 1884. He died in Herisau on April 3, 1922, probably from acute appendicitis, at the age of thirty-seven, nine months after publishing his seminal work, Psychodiagnostik.

From childhood Rorschach evinced considerable artistic skill and while in secondary school he hesitated between fine art, natural science, and medicine, opting finally for the latter. In Zurich, where Rorschach principally studied, Eugen Bleuler had created a revolution in hospital psychiatry by introducing Freud's theories, while his colleague, Carl Gustav Jung, had worked out a word association test on psychodynamic principles. Rorschach obtained his medical license in 1909 and his medical degree in 1912, from the University of Zurich.

From 1909 to 1913, Rorschach worked as an assistant in the psychiatric hospital in Münsterlingen, and there prepared his doctoral thesis, "On Reflex-Hallucinations and Kindred Manifestations." At the same time, he conducted some early experiments on children and adults in which he compared verbal associations with associations aroused by blots of ink, but did not elaborate on this work at the time. Rorschach developed an interest in psychoanalysis about 1911, the date of his first publication. He contributed short articles, reports, and book reviews to the Zentralblatt für Psychoanalyse from 1912 to 1914.

After visiting Russia in 1913, Rorschach returned to Switzerland to assume a position as assistant in Waldau, a psychiatric clinic near Bern; his main interest during this period were several unusual Swiss religious sects. In 1915 he was appointed associate director of the asylum at the small town of Herisau, where he would remain until his death.

While at Herisau, Rorschach rekindled his earlier interest in the use of inkblots in psychiatric diagnosis. Over the course of three years, beginning in 1918, he developed a series of cards through experiments with patients to develop a projective test that could indicate the presence of certain personality traits and characteristics. The Rorschach test is an example of a scientific advance due as much to artistic talent as to intellectual rigor.

Published in 1921, Psychodiagnostics was not yet a definitive text when Rorschach died the following year. The test won acceptance over time, and by the 1930s it had garnered considerable attention in the United States. The Rorschach Institute was founded in New York in 1939, and Henri Ellenberger, with his biographical essay in 1954, restored Rorschach's stature and significance. In the United States, although the test was widely criticized from the 1950s and remains a controversial assessment tool, a revision by John Exner in the 1970s brought the Rorschach renewed and continuing attention.

In 1919, when the Swiss Society of Psychoanalysis was founded by Oskar Pfister and Emil and Mira Oberholzer, Rorschach was one of its eight members, and served as vice-president. He practiced psychoanalysis with a small number of patients. Training analyses were not then required, and Rorschach himself was never analyzed. A selection of Rorschach's articles was published in Germany in 1965.

Mireille Cifali

See also: Psychological tests; Psychology and psychoanalysis; Switzerland (German-speaking).


Ellenberger, Henri. (1954). Hermann Rorschach, M.D., 1884-1922: A biographical study. Bulletin of the Menninger Clinic, 18 (5), 173-219.

Exner, John E., Jr. (1974). The Rorschach: A comprehensive system. New York: John Wiley.

Rorschach, Hermann. (1942). Psychodiagnostics: A diagnostic test based on perception. New York: Grune & Stratton.

. Gesammelte Aufsätze. (1965). Bern, Germany: H. Huber, 1965.

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