The Rorschach test has permeated the collective imagination perhaps more than any other psychological tool. The image of the impassive doctor, holding aloft a series of inkblots and asking, “What do you see?” is an emblem of all that is considered wishy-washy about the therapeutic process.
But the test is still used; in fact, many mental-health specialists say there are few better methods of gauging personality or identifying thought disorders. And the Rorschach is particularly beloved in Japan, which is home to the world’s largest Rorschach society.
But why do the Japanese so embrace this near-century-old assessment?
The test was first introduced to the Japanese in 1925 by a psychologist named Yuzaburo Uchida, after he stumbled upon a copy of Hermann Rorschach’s Psychodiagnostik in a Tokyo bookshop. According to The Development of the Rorschach in Japan, Uchida had already devised his own psychological assessment tool, an arithmetic-based test that measures performance speed and accuracy. And as a test designer, Uchida recognized the potential of the Rorschach immediately.
The Rorschach is a projective test, which means that it is unstructured and ambiguous, provoking unrehearsed responses. As a boy, the Swiss-born Rorschach, the son of an art teacher, toyed with klecksography, a parlor game of creating inkblots and making up stories about them. As an adult, he became a Freudian psychologist, and came to believe that patients’ perceptions of these indefinite images could reveal their unconscious preoccupations and desires.