You, revealed: 'X-Rays of the Soul' examines history, influence of Rorschach test

By Peter Reuell
The Rorschach test (pictured), and the Thematic Apperception Test, developed at Harvard in 1935, present subjects with ambiguous images or situations, and analyze their responses for clues to hidden emotions and mental states.

With the creation, in 1921, of the Rorschach inkblot test, psychologists and researchers had at their disposal a tool that might offer access to the inner life or “secret self” of a subject: the projective test.

A new at Harvard’s Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments, “X-Rays of the Soul: Rorschach and the Projective Test,” tells the story of the triumphal rise, and periodic setbacks, of the projective test movement, and portrays the heady confidence that science could be used to extract and access the most human parts of human beings.

As opposed to objective tests, which compare a subject’s responses with an accepted set of correct answers, the Rorschach test, and the Thematic Apperception Test (TAT), developed at Harvard in 1935, present subjects with ambiguous images or situations, and analyze their responses for clues to hidden emotions and mental states.

Visitors to the exhibition are immediately confronted with a projection of a Rorschach inkblot and analysis of subjects’ responses to the image. Other displays include examples of responses from people who are depressed, suicidal, or victims of trauma.

The rest of the exhibition is separated into two sections — one devoted to the Rorschach test, which includes examples of other inkblot analyses and how the Rorschach test has been portrayed in popular culture; the other devoted to “storytelling tests” like the TAT.

At the back of the exhibition space, a “projective theater” will play excerpts of the 1946 film “The Dark Mirror,” about twin sisters who take the Rorschach test in an effort to determine which committed a murder. Clips of researchers discussing the TAT will also be shown.

“Telling stories based on inkblots started as a parlor game in the 19th century,” said Jean-Francois Gauvin, lecturer on the history of science and director of administration at the Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments. “It was Rorschach who saw their potential and made them into an instrument that might capture, as the exhibition title says, an X-ray of the soul.”

The exhibition will be on display in the Special Exhibitions Gallery, Room 251 of the Science Center, through June 30.

More information: www.fas.harvard.edu/~hsdept/chsi_xrays.html

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Invisible ink? What Rorschach tests really tell us

Jul 30, 2009

One of the most well-known psychological tools is the Rorschach Inkblot Test. A viewer looks at ten inkblots, one at a time, and describes what they see. The rationale behind this test is the idea that certain aspects of ...

Responses shift when changing languages

Nov 03, 2010

The language we speak may influence not only our thoughts, but our implicit preferences as well. That's the finding of a study by Harvard psychologists, who found that bilingual individuals’ opinions ...

To 'think outside the box', think outside the box

Jan 19, 2012

(Medical Xpress) -- Want to think outside the box? Try actually thinking outside of a box. In a study to be published in an upcoming issue of Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, ...

Is there a hidden bias against creativity?

Nov 18, 2011

CEOs, teachers, and leaders claim they want creative ideas to solve problems. But creative ideas are rejected all the time. A new study, which will be published in an upcoming issue of Psychological Science, a journal of the ...

Recommended for you

What sign language teaches us about the brain

Jul 25, 2014

The world's leading humanoid robot, ASIMO, has recently learnt sign language. The news of this breakthrough came just as I completed Level 1 of British Sign Language (I dare say it took me longer to master signing ...

User comments