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July 29, 2009

Rorschach Test Cheat Sheet

Filed under: Main — Ryan Jones @ 3:06 pm

There’s an interesting article in the New York Times claiming that Wikipedia is de-valuing the Rorschach test by including the 10 ink blot images and their most common associated terms as part of its article.

The controversy started on June 29th when Dr. James Heilman decided to include all the images and research about common terms in the wikipedia page. The images still remain, but the terms were taken down later amid protest from those in the scientific community. Of course, due to how Wikipedia works, those terms are still available in the history page.

Just in case that somehow gets removed, here’s a screen shot:

Rorschach cheat sheet
click for larger image

Personally, I understand where the scientific community is coming from, but their anger is many years too late. My college psych class included most of this information in the textbook – and that was printed sometime in the 80s. Anybody could have walked into the store and purchased the book and gotten way more “potential bias” information from there than they could find on Wikipedia. Why wasn’t there outrage over textbooks?

My personal view as a computer scientist who only took the required 3 psychology classes in college is that the Rorschach test is pretty useless. It’s a good measure of how well somebody conforms to the status quo, but that’s about it.

One standard test that never changes questions is generally a bad idea in a lot of fields. Eye charts are one that comes to mind – with no doubt thousands of people having memorized “E FP TOZ LPED PECFD…” (That’s all I remember off the top of my head.) How many of you have cheated at the eye dr when they ask you to read the same line with your left eye that you just read with your right eye? It’s not a very valid test.

Rorschach is one of those tests. Anybody seriously trying to cheat the test is going to be able to do so whether or not the images and terms appear on Wikipedia. Once the data is out there anywhere (even textbooks!) it’s out there and will be found out by those wanting to abuse it.

On a side note though, if (and I doubt it) the publication of this data will really have an impact on the test, that means we can make it have the opposite impact too. It might be fun to alter the “normal terms” and see how many people confidently walk into their psychologist’s office and proudly proclaim that the butterfly image is really “a man hang gliding over the city with an ak47 raining a deadly hail of bullets onto those below him.”

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