Principles of Rorschach Interpretation
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Principles of Rorschach Interpretation

Irving B. Weiner

  1. 448 páginas
  2. English
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eBook - ePub

Principles of Rorschach Interpretation

Irving B. Weiner

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This second edition of Irving Weiner's classic comprehensive, clinician-friendly guide to utilizing the Rorschach for personality description has been revised to reflect both recent modifications in the Rorschach Comprehensive System and new evidence concerning the soundness and utility of Rorschach assessment. It integrates the basic ingredients of structural, thematic, behavioral, and sequence analysis strategies into systematic guidelines for describing personality functioning. It is divided into three parts. Part I concerns basic considerations in Rorschach testing and deals with conceptual and empirical foundations of the inkblot method and with critical issues in formulating and justifying Rorschach inferences. Part II is concerned with elements of interpretation that contribute to thorough utilization of data in a Rorschach protocol: the Comprehensive System search strategy; the complementary roles of projection and card pull in determining response characteristics; and the interpretive significance of structural variables, content themes, test behaviors, and the sequence in which various response characteristics occur. Each of the chapters presents and illustrates detailed guidelines for translating Rorschach findings into descriptions of structural and dynamic aspects of personality functioning. The discussion throughout emphasizes the implications of Rorschach data for personality assets and liabilities, with specific respect to adaptive and maladaptive features of the manner in which people attend to their experience, use ideation, modulate affect, manage stress, view themselves, and relate to others. Part III presents 10 case illustrations of how the interpretive principles delineated in Part II can be used to identify assets and liabilities in personality functioning and apply this information in clinical practice. These cases represent persons from diverse demographic backgrounds and demonstrate a broad range of personality styles and clinical issues. Discussion of these cases touches on numerous critical concerns in arriving at different diagnoses, formulating treatment plans, and elucidating structural and dynamic determinants of behavior.

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The Nature of the Rorschach

The centennial of Hermann Rorschach’s birth was observed in 1984, and more than 85 years have passed since he began in earnest to show inkblots to patients being treated in the Krombach Mental Hospital in Herisau, Switzerland. His “psychological experiment,” which he called it, led to the publication in 1921 of his monograph, Psychodiagnostics: A Diagnostic Test Based on Perception (1921/1942), and eventually to the standardization of a personality assessment instrument that has been administered to hundreds of thousands of people, generated thousands of research studies, and become widely familiar to professional persons and the general public around the world. Despite its high visibility and broad recognition as an assessment technique, however, the Rorschach has not always been adequately conceptualized with respect to the kind of instrument it is and how its data can best be interpreted. Accordingly, this presentation of principles of Rorschach interpretation begins with two introductory chapters on basic considerations in Rorschach testing, one concerning the nature of the Rorschach as a measuring instrument and the other addressing approaches to Rorschach interpretation. The following five aspects of Rorschach assessment, each of which has received considerable attention in the literature, define the basic nature of this instrument:
  1. Rorschach assessment is both an objective and a subjective procedure.
  2. The Rorschach measures both perceptual and associational processes.
  3. The Rorschach assesses both structural and dynamic aspects of personality functioning.
  4. Rorschach testing constitutes a multifaceted method of data collection.
  5. Rorschach assessment rests on a sound psychometric foundation.
By elaborating each of these aspects of Rorschach assessment, the present chapter provides a conceptual overview of the nature of this method as a measuring instrument.


Hermann Rorschach (1921/1942, p. 13) undertook his psychological experiment as an objective way of sampling, codifying, and drawing inferences from individual differences in styles of cognitive structuring. To this end, he developed a single set of inkblots to be used with every respondent;1 he formulated a standard procedure for asking respondents what the inkblots might be; he delineated specific criteria for categorizing respondents’ responses in terms of such features as location, determinants, and content; and, on the basis of differences he observed among patient and nonpatient groups of various kinds, he proposed interpretive guidelines for inferring personality characteristics from such summary scores as W % (percent of Whole responses), Erlebnistypis (EB; M:SumC), and A% (percent of Animal responses).
Rorschach’s codification of responses was addressed to how respondents solve the problem of having to say what the inkblots might be while recognizing that they are in fact merely inkblots. To accomplish this task, respondents must choose what portions of the blots to consider, which involves focusing their attention in certain ways; they must decide what these portions of the blot look like, which involves forming perceptual impressions of blot characteristics such as shape and color and comparing these impressions with object impressions stored in memory; and they must ponder what interrelationships, if any, exist among the impressions they form. In contemporary language, these elements of producing Rorschach responses identify the instrument as a cognitive structuring task involving processes of attention, perception, memory, decision making, and logical analysis.
As a cognitive structuring task comprising uniform stimuli, standard administration, formal coding, and specific interpretive guidelines, the Rorschach is in many ways an objective assessment technique. To be sure, most Rorschach responses cannot be coded with as much certainty as atrue-or-false answer on a self-report inventory. Yet there is ample evidence that Rorschach coding can proceed in a reliable and largely objective manner. Empirical studies indicate that examiners trained in the Rorschach Comprehensive System can be expected to achieve better than 90% agreement on codes for Location Choice, Pair, Popular (P ), and Organizational Activity (Z ); more than 80% agreement on determinants, form quality, content category, and Special Scores; and an overall mean percentage interrater agreement of just under 90% (Exner, 1991, pp. 459–460; 1993, p. 138; McDowell & Acklin, 1996; Meyer, 1997a).
Some critics of Rorschach assessment have questioned whether percentage agreement is an adequate measure of intercoder reliability for the Rorschach and other multidimensional instruments, and have recommended instead using kappa or intraclass correlation coefficients, which are statistics that correct for chance agreements (Wood, Nezworski, & Stejskal, 1996, 1997). However, Rorschach intercoder reliability has proved substantial no matter how it is measured. Meta-analytic reviews and studies with patient and nonpatient samples have found mean kappa coefficients ranging from .79 to .88 across various Comprehensive System coding categories, which for kappa coefficients are generally regarded as being in the good to excellent range (Acklin, McDowell, Verschell, & Chan, 2000; Meyer, 1997a, 1997b). As for intraclass correlation coefficients, Meyer and colleagues (2002) have reported the following results of two independent ratings of 219 clinical protocols containing 4,761 responses. The median and mean interrater reliability coefficients were .92 and .90, respectively, over 164 structural summary variables. None of the variables showed poor reliability, and 95% were classified by their intraclass correlation as having excellent reliability. Cumulative evidence thus demonstrates that Rorschach responses can be reliably coded using the Comprehensive System.
Reliable coding by conscientious examiners who hew strictly to well-established coding criteria for basic structural variables should not be unexpected. Whether Rorschach responses include the entire blot, articulate color, or identify human figures are objective facts. Likewise, the corollaries of W emphasis, low SumC, and infrequent H can be investigated as objectively as the corollaries of variables drawn from any other test, including those commonly described as objective instruments. For example, coding W for a whole response, tallying the total number or percentage of W in a record, and comparing the result with some behavioral index of preference for a global approach to experience is an entirely objective process. Hence, there can be considerable objectivity in identifying personality and behavioral correlates of formally scored dimensions of the cognitive structuring style that respondents bring to bear in saying what the Rorschach inkblots might be.
On the other hand, in the years after Rorschach’s death in 1922, scholars came gradually to recognize that the inkblot method could assess many more aspects of personality functioning than were tapped by focusing solely on objective measurement of cognitive structuring. Of particular importance in this regard were the contributions of psychoanalytically oriented Rorschach clinicians who elaborated numerous ways in which the thematic content of Rorschach responses can provide clues to a person’s underlying feelings and concerns. Especially influential among these contributions were the work of Klopfer, Ainsworth, Klopfer, and Holt (1954), who endorsed psychoanalysis as the best theory for understanding the Rorschach, especially the content of responses; Schafer (1954), who developed a broad conceptual framework for psychoanalytic interpretation of thematic imagery; and Lindner (1950), who wrote that “what the patient under Rorschach scrutiny produces is quite as important as how he produces it” (p.).
From this psychoanalytic perspective, the production of Rorschach responses involves processes of association, attribution, and symbolization. These processes lead respondents to attribute characteristics to their percepts that go beyond the actual stimulus features of the blots, as in saying that two human figures “are arguing about which way to go,” or that an animal “has been shot and wounded,” or that some object “is a weapon that could be used to hurt you.” Similarly, descriptions of the inkblots may involve associations to what is seen, as in a man describing the bottom center detail (D6) of Card VII (for which “vagina” is an ordinary form) as “something you could fall into and get trapped.” They may also include symbolic references, as in saying about Card III that “the red heart-shaped object in the center indicates that these two people are in love.”
In contrast to Hermann Rorschach’s structural focus, the emergence of attention to these types of thematic imagery introduced a new and less objective Rorschach tradition in which the inkblots are regarded not only as a cognitive structuring task but also, or even primarily, as a stimulus to fantasy. In this subjective tradition, fantasy productions provide important and personally relevant information independently of any objective features of the stimuli, the mode of administration, or the respondent’s cognitive structuring style. The distinction between objective and subjective features of Rorschach responses encompasses two key considerations in specifying the nature of the instrument. The first of these is the role of projection in the formulation of responses, and the second is the extent to which a Rorschach examination involves ambiguity.

Role of Projection

Projection is customarily considered to occur when people attribute their own internal characteristics to external objects or events without justification and without being consciously aware that they are doing so. Rorschach did not refer to projection in his monograph, even though he was familiar with the psychoanalytic literature of his day and presumably with Freud’s (1911/1958) discussion of the mechanism of projection in his analysis of the Schreber case. Projection was not mentioned in connection with the Rorschach until 1939, when Frank (1939) suggested that personality tests in which there is relatively little structure induce a respondent to “project upon that plastic field . . . his private world of personal meanings and feelings” (pp.). Frank’s linking of the concept of projection to the response process in measures like the Rorschach led to the designation of assessment methods involving some ambiguity as “projective tests” and to Rapaport (1942) proposing to “call this principle underlying projective techniques ‘the projective hypothesis’” (p.).
The role of projection in Rorschach responses was subsequently elaborated by others, most notably Schachtel. Schachtel (1966, chaps. 2, 7, 9) described in detail how projection influences Rorschach responses through respondents’ attributions to their percepts of their own qualities, feelings, experiences, and strivings, especially in movement responses and in personally meaningful form responses that are partly determined by the person’s drives, needs, and emotional states.
These formulations of projection in the Rorschach led to the now well-entrenched distinction between objective and projective tests and the customary classification of the Rorschach as a projective test. In retrospect, this classification has proved regrettable in two respects. First, classifying the Rorschach as something other than an objective instrument implies that it is an entirely subjective measure. Being thus tarred with the brush of subjectivity has at times provided the basis for unwarranted criticism of Rorschach assessment as a method in which interpretations say as much about the examiner as about the person being examined. Although ill prepared examiners may in fact err in this way, such personalized interpretations represent poor Rorschach practice rather than anything inherent in the instrument.
Second, classification as a projective instrument implies that projection is inevitable in Rorschach responses and essential to their providing any useful information. Like allegations of its being an entirely subjective method, however, conception of the Rorschach as an entirely projective measure is faulty and misleading. Projection is neither inevitable nor essential in the Rorschach, for the reason that interpretively meaningful responses can be given without recourse to association, attribution, or symbolization. The basic instructions recommended by Rorschach and used in the Comprehensive System ask, “What might this be?” “Where do you see it?” and “What made it look like that?” Respondents can comply with these instructions and produce a valid protocol without using projection in formulating their responses.
For example, suppose a person says to Card I, “The whole thing looks like a black bat.” Card I does in fact look like a bat or butterfly to most people, and it is gray-black in color. Hence, this “black bat” response does not attribute any characteristics to the stimulus that are not already there, and it accordingly does not involve projection. Although records composed entirely of unelaborated responses like “a black bat” do not have much interpretive richness, they can nevertheless provide valuable information about a respondent’s personality style. This is especially the case when otherwise impoverished records contain a notable frequency of responses that, like the black bat, are popular, use the entire blot, or articulate achromatic color.
Even though responses can be formulated and protocols interpreted in the absence of projected material, projection nevertheless occurs frequently and sometimes dramatically in the production of a Rorschach record. Suppose a person looking at Card I responds not with a black but, but with “A vulture swooping down to get its prey.” Now the response involves an uncommon and inaccurate percept (“A vulture”), the attribution of movement to a static inkblot (“swooping down”), and the fantasy of imminent victimization (“to get its prey”). Responses that are perceived inaccurately or embellished in these ways usually involve projection, because what is being reported is not present in the stimulus and therefore must have emerged from attitudes and concerns internal to the respondent.
The fact that projection can and does occur in the formulation of Rorschach responses but is neither inevitable nor essential in the response process is consistent with the recognition that the instrument elicits responses containing both objective descriptions and subjective impressions. As for the extent to which Rorschach protocols are likely to be influenced by projective mechanisms, there is no single answer to this question. Depending on the richness of respondents’ fantasy lives and their inclination to reveal these fantasies, protocols will vary in the amount of projection they reflect. Pertinent in this regard, however, is an observation by Schachtel (1966), that projection does not occur in the majority of Rorschach responses and is not the only significant aspect of responses in which it does occur: “In other words,” wrote Schachtel, “only a small fraction of the many processes underlying Rorschach responses are of a projective nature” (p.).
Heeding Schachtel’s caution, those who use and study the Rorschach should keep in mind that an interpretable record can be produced without much involvement of projective mechanisms and the subjectivity they entail. In discussing this aspect of the response process, Exner (1989) has argued that the Rorschach should no longer be classified and referred to as a projective test. Given what has been said here about the nature of Rorschach assessment and the disadvantage of its being erroneously considered an entirely subjective procedure, Exner’s point seems well taken. Long-established customs die hard, however, and logical argument will probably not in the foreseeable future alter common categorical distinctions between objective and projective tests.
As a possible harbinger of the future, however, Meyer and colleagues (2001) have recommended replacing the objective–projective distinction with a classification of tests into self-report and performance-based categories. The basic data of self-report measures consist of what people are able and willing to say about themselves in response to direct questions. The basic data of performance-based measures consist of what can be inferred about the capacities and characteristics of people from how they respond to various tasks designed to provide indirect assessment of these capacities and characteristics. In this categorization, the Rorschach and other traditional projective tests are grouped with tests of intelligence and neuropsychological functioning as performance-based measures.
Within such a grouping of performance-based measures, the Rorschach would still retain its identify as one among a group of personality assessment instruments that involve projective elements. Some years ago, following in the tradition of Frank, I offered the following definition of projective tests: “Projective tests are psychodiagnostic instruments in which some degree of ambiguity prompts subjects to ‘project’ their underlying needs and attitudes into the responses they give” (Weiner, 1977a, p. 112). I noted then that this ambiguity could reside either in the test stimuli or in the instructions given to participants, and I concluded that “the definition of a ‘projective test’ rests largely with the extent to which it emphasizes stimulus or response ambiguity as a means of obtaining information about personality processes” (p.). By this criterion,...


Estilos de citas para Principles of Rorschach Interpretation

APA 6 Citation

Weiner, I. (2003). Principles of Rorschach Interpretation (2nd ed.). Taylor and Francis. Retrieved from (Original work published 2003)

Chicago Citation

Weiner, Irving. (2003) 2003. Principles of Rorschach Interpretation. 2nd ed. Taylor and Francis.

Harvard Citation

Weiner, I. (2003) Principles of Rorschach Interpretation. 2nd edn. Taylor and Francis. Available at: (Accessed: 14 October 2022).

MLA 7 Citation

Weiner, Irving. Principles of Rorschach Interpretation. 2nd ed. Taylor and Francis, 2003. Web. 14 Oct. 2022.