Biography of Hermann Rorschach

A brief biography of Hermann Rorschach

A brief biography of Hermann Rorschach

  • Hermann Rorschach was a Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst. He was famous for developing a projective test known as the Rorschach inkblot test.
  • He was the eldest of three children was born on 8th November 1884 at Zurich, Switzerland. Rorschach was nicknamed as Klex (meaning inkblot) derived from the word “Klecksography”.
  • Klecksography was a popular game in which children used to play by spilling ink over the plain paper, fold it and open to view objects in the emerged pattern of the inkblot.
  • He was only 12 years old when his mother died in 1897. Seven years after that, his father also died.
  • Rorschach’s father was a drawing teacher. Like his father, Rorschach also showed great talent at painting and drawing.
  • As the time of his high school graduation approached, he could not decide between a career in art and one in science. He was taking advice from Ernst Haeckel (1834- 1919), the famous advocate of Darwin’s evolutionary theory, whether he should optional for art or natural sciences for further studies. Haeckel advised him to move for natural sciences.
  • As per the advice, Rorschach entered medical school in Zurich in 1904 and graduated in 1909. He was also a bright student from the beginning, and he often tutored other students at his school.
  • Rorschach married Olga Stempelin, a Russian lady, in 1910. They had a son and a daughter.
  • Rorschach accepted a position in an asylum in Münsterlingen in 1909. Rorschach had become very popular in psychiatric patients for his organizations of theatrical programs.
  • At one time he brought a monkey and kept it to observe the patients’ reactions to it, and also to entertain them.
  • Rorschach was experimenting with inkblots and Jung’s word association test on school children and patients in 1911.
  • Rorschach had studied under Eugen Bleuler (the eminent psychiatrist who coined the term schizophrenia).
  • Bleuler had supervised his doctoral dissertation which was completed in 1912.
  • Towards the end of 1915, Rorschach was appointed as associate director of the asylum at Herisau, in the eastern part of Switzerland.
  • Rorschach had an intense interest in psychoanalysis. He was also keenly interested in investigating psychopathology in religious sects in Switzerland.
  • He examined Binggeli, a leader of a strange religious sect who taught his disciples that his penis was sacred and that they should adore it; his urine was called ‘heaven’s drops’ or ‘heaven’s balm’ and he gave it to them for the Holy Communion.
  • Rorschach’s interest in the inkblot test got revoked, when Hens published a doctoral thesis on an inkblot test in 1917. Hens’ technique was similar to the one applied by Rorschach in 1911, Hens had studied the fantasies of his subjects using inkblots.
  • The work of Hens led Rorschach to resume his own experiments in 1918. He used 15 cards more often than many other cards and collected the answers to the test from 305 persons, 117 of them non-patients, 188 of them were schizophrenics.
  • He showed them the cards and asked the question: “What might this be?” Their subjective responses enabled him to distinguish among his patients on the basis of their perceptive abilities, intelligence, and emotional characteristics.
  • Rorschach’s friends were very positive about his work and encouraged him to get it published. The original version of 15 inkblots, were sent to six publishers. All of them refused to publish the work.
  • Eventually, a publisher from Bern agreed to publish his work on the condition that the number of cards was reduced to ten.

Rorschach Card

  • The final set of 10 Rorschach Inkblot cards was published in June 1921.
  • But the printing quality of the inkblots was quite different and resulted in many variations. They had been reduced in size, the colors had been altered and the original patches of uniform color density had been reproduced with a varying degree of saturation which later became an important variable (shading).
  • His book “Rorschach Psychodiagnostik‘ published in 1921 was a disaster. The entire edition remained unsold. The publisher, Bircher, went bankrupt shortly afterward.
  • Rorschach was somewhat depressed but remained firm in his stand. He delivered a lecture in the Swiss Psychoanalytic Society in February 1922; he spoke of further development of his test. Rorschach remained in Herisau asylum until laparotomy his premature death.
  • On 1st April 1922, he was hospitalized after a week of abdominal pains, probably caused by a ruptured appendix. An explorative was performed, but the condition proved to be inoperable, and Rorschach died of peritonitis, the following day, on 2nd April 1922 only at the age of 37 years.
  • Hans Huber purchased the publication rights of Rorschach Inkblots from Ernst Bircher in 1927. Since then Hans Huber has been the publisher of Rorschach Psychodiagnostik.
  • The publication of inkblots is still done through the older and obsolete methods to preserve the color, texture, and overall Gestalten of the inkblots. The equipments are very carefully and exclusively maintained for publication of inkblots to prevent any distortions.
  • The Rorschach was the most widely used as a projective test in the 1960s.
  • In 2001, the inkblot test was criticized as pseudoscience and its use was declared controversial.
  • In November 2013, Google celebrated the 129th anniversary of Rorschach’s birth with a Google Doodle showing an interpretation of his inkblot test. And 2013 and 2015 two systemic reviews and meta-analyses were published that resulted in the criticism as pseudoscience being lifted.


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