9 Revealing Facts About the Rorschach Test

Orlando/Three Lions/Getty Images
Orlando/Three Lions/Getty Images

It’s become as iconic an image of psychology as Sigmund Freud puffing on a cigar. The Rorschach test, named after creator and psychiatrist Hermann Rorschach, has been allowing people to interpret its abstract inkblot images—and for mental health professionals to draw conclusions about their personalities and possible mental disorders—since its debut in 1921. For a clearer picture, check out some facts about the test’s origins, efficacy, and more.

1. THE RORSCHACH TEST WAS INSPIRED BY A CHILDREN'S GAME.

In the late 19th century there was a popular children's game called klecksography—the art of making images with inkblots. The game generally involved pouring ink onto paper, folding the paper over, and seeing what images emerged. Working in a Swiss asylum, Rorschach wondered if patients would interpret these inkblots differently depending on pathology, which he had some success with. That inspired him to begin using his own custom-made, abstract, symmetrical designs to solicit conceptual answers from his subjects. In doing so, Rorschach believed he could burrow deeper into a patient's subconscious than written psychological tests allowed.

2. WE KNOW NEXT TO NOTHING ABOUT HOW THE RORSCHACH TEST CARDS WERE DESIGNED.

Rorschach first developed the inkblot test of 10 splotchy cards to diagnose mental illness. According to Damion Searls, author of a history of Rorschach and his creation titled The Inkblots, no surviving memos or notes exist that detail Rorschach's process for designing the cards or what data or sources he might have used to craft them. In his later writing, Rorschach said only that "empirical observations" informed the blots and that he had "no explanation for why the test worked at all," according to Searls.

3. RORSCHACH'S COLLEAGUES WEREN'T IMPRESSED.

Although Rorschach was eager to publish the inkblots in 1918 to bring them into wider use, the illustrations were met with derision. Publishers wanted him to pay them to reproduce the cards, possibly owing to wartime paper rationing. Worse, his colleagues didn't believe the blot test had any demonstrable value. After Rorschach published them in his 1921 book, Psychodiagnostics, German psychologists called them "crude." The test didn't receive wide acclaim until it was brought to the United States by child psychologist David Mordecai Levy in 1923—a year after Rorschach died at age 37 from appendicitis.

4. THE RORSCHACH BLOTS ARE VERY DELIBERATELY MESSY.

Rorschach developed the 10 blots with a kind of structured disorder. While the cards appear messy, he felt they couldn't present as deliberately crafted, otherwise patients might think the art was customized for their own specific session. Rorschach also omitted any perceptible brush strokes or other indications they had been handmade.

5. SUBJECTS HAVE THREE REACTIONS.

Typically, people exposed to the Rorschach test are processing each image on three planes: form, movement, and color. They examine the blot’s form, or shape. Some might see a bear; others, a bat. People will also assign varying levels of movement to the shapes. If they see a person, he or she might be dancing. Finally, Rorschach observed how people reacted to the introduction of color in five of the 10 cards. A person's response to the sudden infusion of pigment into the black and white shapes might indicate stronger emotional responses.

6. RORSCHACH THOUGHT THE TEST WOULD WORK ON EVERYONE—EXCEPT TEENAGERS.

Rorschach believed answers to his test could illuminate a subject's psychological state. Creative types might see more images in motion, while those ruminating on details lacked imagination. Depressed persons didn't remark much on the introduction of color, while “neurotics” were said to be alarmed by the sudden explosion of red. The only subjects he felt the test failed to assess were teenagers, since they had too much in common with the clinically insane.

7. THE BLOTS HAVE NEVER CHANGED.

From their initial publication in 1921, the 10 blots designed by Rorschach have never undergone any kind of facelift. Contrary to popular belief, psychologists don't create their own cards. They use Rorschach's, and his 10 images are still the ones in circulation today.

8. THERE'S STILL DISAGREEMENT OVER WHETHER THE TEST ACTUALLY WORKS.

Over the years, the Rorschach test has been shuffled between the shared file drawers of psychology, supported by some therapists and derided by others. Critics say the scoring system and parsing answers is as subjective to the psychologist as it is to the patient and that it’s pseudoscience. A 2000 meta-analysis of available data demonstrated that “the substantial majority of [Rorschach] indexes are not empirically supported.” Other professionals find objective evidence in a more polished scoring system for answers first used in the 1970s and see the test as having value in learning how people express their impressions—while not diagnostic, it can be informative.

9. THEY'RE NOT SUPPOSED TO BE PUBLISHED ONLINE.

Like virtually everything else, the Rorschach test is readily available for online viewing—but the psychologists who still put stock in the test would prefer you didn't look at it. The test is intended to be administered to people who have no prior familiarity with the images, ensuring they don’t create preconceived answers or get a sense of what a "right" answer might be. When the images (and the most commonly-recorded responses) were uploaded to Wikipedia by emergency room physician James Heilman in 2009, the move sparked raging debate in psychology circles. Heilman was unmoved, saying that it was no different from posting an eye exam chart.

If you'd like to occupy your time with a multiple-choice version of the test, there's one available online.

7 Ways Victorian Fashion Could Kill You

An 1862 engraving showing a skeleton gentleman at a ball asking a skeleton lady to dance, meant to represent the effect of arsenic dyes and pigments in clothing and accessories.
An 1862 engraving showing a skeleton gentleman at a ball asking a skeleton lady to dance, meant to represent the effect of arsenic dyes and pigments in clothing and accessories.

While getting dressed in the morning can seem like a hassle (pajamas are so much more comfortable), few of us worry about our clothes leading to our death. That wasn’t the case during the Victorian era, when fashionable fabrics and accessories sometimes came at great price for both makers and wearers. In Fashion Victims: The Dangers of Dress Past and Present, Alison Matthews David, a professor in the School of Fashion at Ryerson University in Toronto, outlines the many toxic, flammable, and otherwise highly hazardous components of high style during the 19th century. Here are a few of the worst offenders.

1. Poisonous Dyes

A drawing of Victorian fashions likely made with arsenic dyes
A drawing of Victorian fashions likely made with arsenic dyes
Bloomsbury Visual Arts

Before the 1780s, green was a tricky color to create on clothes, and dressmakers depended on a combination of yellow and blue dyes to produce the hue. But in the late 1770s a Swedish/German chemist named Carl Wilhelm Scheele invented a new green pigment by mixing potassium and white arsenic on a solution of copper vitriol. The pigment was dubbed Scheele’s Green, and later Paris Green, among other names, and it became a huge sensation, used to color walls, paintings, and fabrics as well as candles, candies, food wrappers, and even children’s toys. Not surprisingly, it also caused sores, scabs, and damaged tissue, as well as nausea, colic, diarrhea, and constant headaches.

Although fashionable women wore arsenic-dyed fabrics—even Queen Victoria was depicted in one—its health effects were worst among the textile and other workers who created the clothes and often labored in warm, arsenic-impregnated rooms day after day. (Some scholars have even theorized that Napoleon might have been poisoned by the arsenic-laced wallpaper hung in his St. Helena home.)

Arsenical dyes were also a popular addition to artificial flowers and leaves, which meant they were frequently pinned to clothes or fastened on heads. In the 1860s, a report commissioned by the Ladies’ Sanitary Association found that the average headdress contained enough arsenic to poison 20 people. The British Medical Journal wrote of the green-clad Victorian woman: “She actually carries in her skirts poison enough to slay the whole of the admirers she may meet with in half a dozen ball-rooms.” Despite repeated warnings in the press, and from doctors and scientists, the Victorians seemed in love with emerald green arsenic dyes; ironically, they acted like a reminder of the nature then swiftly being lost to industrialization, David says.

2. Pestilential Fabrics

Soldiers of the Victorian era (and earlier) were plagued by lice and other body parasites that carried deadly diseases such as typhus and trench fever. But soldiers weren’t the only victims of disease carried via fabric—even the wealthy sometimes wore clothing that was made or cleaned by the sick in sweatshops or tenements, and which spread disease as a result. According to David, the daughter of Victorian Prime Minister Sir Robert Peel died after her riding habit, given to her by her father as a gift, was finished in the house of a poor seamstress who had used it to cover her sick husband as he lay shivering with typhus-induced chills. Peel’s daughter contracted typhus after wearing the garment, and died on the eve of her wedding.

Women also worried about their skirts sweeping through the muck and excrement of city streets, where bacteria was rife, and some wore special skirt-fasteners to keep them up from the gunk. The poor, who often wore secondhand clothes, suffered from smallpox and other diseases spread by fabric that was recycled without being properly washed.

3. Flowing Skirts

Giant, ruffled, crinoline-supported skirts may have been fine for ladies of leisure, but they weren’t a great combination with industrial machinery. According to David, one mill in Lancashire posted a sign in 1860 forbidding the “present ugly fashion of HOOPS, or CRINOLINE, as it is called” as being “quite unfitted for the work of our Factories.” The warning was a wise one: In at least one printing office, a girl was caught by her crinoline and dragged under the mechanical printing press. The girl was reportedly “very slim” and escaped unharmed, but the foreman banned the skirts anyway. Long, large, or draped skirts were also an unfortunate combination with carriages and animals.

4. Flammable Fabrics

A woman with her crinoline on fire
Bloomsbury Visual Arts

The flowing white cotton so popular in the late 18th and 19th centuries had dangers to both maker and wearer: It was produced with often-brutal slave labor on plantations, and it was also more flammable than the heavy silks and wool favored by the wealthy in the previous centuries. One type of cotton lace was particularly problematic: In 1809 John Heathcoat patented a machine that made the first machine-woven silk and cotton pillow “lace” or bobbinet, now better known as tulle, which could catch fire in an instant. The tulle was frequently layered, to add volume and compensate for its sheerness, and stiffened with highly combustible starch. Ballerinas were particularly at risk: British ballerina Clara Webster died in 1844 when her dress caught fire at London’s Drury Lane theatre after her skirt came too close to sunken lights onstage.

But performers weren’t the only ones in peril: Even the average woman wearing the then-popular voluminous crinolines was at risk of setting herself ablaze. And the “flannelette” (plain cotton brushed to create a nap and resemble wool flannel) so popular for nightshirts and undergarments was particularly combustible if hit with a stray spark or the flame of a household candle. So many children burned in household accidents that one company came out with a specially treated flannelette called Non-Flam, advertised as being “strong’y recommended by Coroners.”

5. Arsenic-Ridden Taxidermy

Dead birds were a popular addition to ladies’ hats in the 19th century. According to David, “fashions in millinery killed millions of small songbirds and introduced dangers that may still make some historic women’s hats harmful to humans today.”

But it wasn’t the birds that were the problem—it was the arsenic used on them. Taxidermists of the day used arsenic-laced soaps and other products to preserve birds and other creatures. In some cases, entire birds—one or several—were mounted on hats. Some Victorian fashion commentators decried the practice, though not because of the arsenic involved. One Mrs. Haweis, a writer on dress and beauty, began an 1887 diatribe against “smashed birds” with the sentence: “A corpse is never a really pleasant ornament.”

6. Mercury

No upper-class man of the Victorian era was complete without his hat, but many of those hats were made with mercury. As David explains, “Although its noxious effects were known, it was the cheapest and most efficient way to turn stiff, low-grade fur from rabbits and hares into malleable felt.” Mercury gave animal fur its smooth, glossy, matted texture, but that velvety look came at a high cost—mercury is an extremely dangerous substance.

Mercury can rapidly enter the body through the skin or the air, and causes a range of horrible health effects. Hatters were known to suffer from convulsions, abdominal cramps, trembling, paralysis, reproductive problems, and more. (A chemistry professor studying toxic exposure at Dartmouth College, Karen Wetterhahn, died in 1996 after spilling just a few drops of a supertoxic type of mercury on her glove.) To make matters worse, hatters who drank while they worked (not an uncommon practice) only hastened mercury’s effects by hampering the liver’s ability to eliminate it. While scholars still debate whether Lewis Carroll’s “mad hatter” was meant to show the effects of mercury poisoning, his trembling limbs and wacky speech seem to fit the bill.

7. Lead

A Victorian facial cream containing lead
A Victorian facial cream containing lead
Bloomsbury Visual Arts

Pallor was definitely in during the Victorian era, and a face spackled with lead white paint was long favored by fashionable women. Lead had been a popular ingredient in cosmetics for centuries, David writes, because it “made colors even and opaque and created a desirable ‘whiteness’ that bespoke both freedom from hard outdoor labor and racial purity.” One of the most popular lead-laced cosmetic products was called Laird’s Bloom of Youth; in 1869, one of the founders of the American Medical Association treated three young women who had been using the product and temporarily lost full use of their hands and wrists as a result. (The doctor described the condition as “lead palsy,” although today we call it wrist drop or radial nerve palsy, which can be caused by lead poisoning.) One of the women’s hands was said to be “wasted to a skeleton.”

This article was republished in 2019.

The 25 Highest-Paying Entry-Level Jobs for New Graduates

iStock/kali9
iStock/kali9

When they finish their final exams, college seniors can look forward to job hunting. Roughly 1.9 million students in the U.S. will receive their bachelor's degrees this school year, and while some new graduates may be happy to take the first job they're offered, others will be looking for something that pays well—even at the entry level. According to Glassdoor, recent grads qualified for the 25 jobs below will have the best luck.

To compile this list of the highest-paying entry-level jobs in the U.S., the job search website identified employment opportunities with the highest median bases salaries reported by users 25 or younger. Positions in the tech industry dominate the list. Aspiring data scientists can expect to make $95,000 a year at their first job out of college, while software engineers have a median annual base salary of $90,000. Other entry-level tech jobs like UX designer, Java developer, and systems engineer all start at salaries of $70,000 or more.

Banking and business positions, including investment banking analysta ($85,000), actuarial analysts ($66,250), and business analysts ($63,000), appear on the list as well. The only listed position that doesn't fall under the tech, finance, or business categories is for physical therapists, who report a median starting salary of $63,918.

You can check out the full list of the 25 highest-paying entry-level jobs below.

  1. Data Scientist // $95,000
  2. Software Engineer // $90,000
  3. Product Manager // $89,000
  4. Investment Banking Analyst // $85,000
  5. Product Designer // $85,000
  6. UX Designer // $73,000
  7. Implementation Consultant // $72,000
  8. Java Developer // $72,000
  9. Systems Engineer // $70,000
  10. Software Developer // $68,600
  11. Process Engineer // $68,258
  12. Front End Developer // $67,500
  13. Product Engineer // $66,750
  14. Actuarial Analyst // $66,250
  15. Electrical Engineer // $66,000
  16. Mechanical Engineer // $65,000
  17. Design Engineer // $65,000
  18. Applications Developer // $65,000
  19. Test Engineer // $65,000
  20. Programmer Analyst // $65,000
  21. Quality Engineer // $64,750
  22. Physical Therapist // $63,918
  23. Field Engineer // $63,750
  24. Project Engineer // $63,000
  25. Business Analyst // $63,000

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