Projective tests are used to gauge an individual’s thought patterns, processing, feelings, and needs through the person’s interpretation of ambiguous stimuli. Projective assessments come in many forms, but the most commonly accepted and used projective test is the “Rorschach Inkblot Test” where the subject describes what he or she sees in each image (inkblot). Responses are systematically assigned to various codes using a standard method and answers are further coded as typical or unusual using the long lists in the standardized manual. Statistical formulas convert the scores into psychological, interpretive data: dominant personality style, egocentricity index, flexibility of thinking index, and the suicide constellation. The test is well researched and has a long history of the most used projective measure in forensic cases.

However, do projective tests have a place in court cases at all? Some controversy exists regarding incorporating projective measures in court-involved assessments because they are difficult to ascertain and describe appropriately. However, much “common knowledge” about the Rorschach is either incorrect or disputable. The advantages and disadvantages of utilizing the Rorschach in court-involved assessments are outlined below to help illustrate an easier understanding of a complex projective assessment. 

PROS:

  • Substantial evidence as a clinical measure for:
    • (Verbal) Intelligence 
    • Thinking and processing abilities 
    • Psychotic conditions 
    • Thought disorders
    • Suicide risk
    • So they can be useful if your case involves these
  • Relatively difficult to invalidate 
    • Difficult to “fake good” or “throw” results
  • Provide an extra piece of data that can be useful
  • Good for direct examination 
  • Can provide interpretive results
  • Difficult for cross examination due to the instrument appearing abstract 

CONS:

  • Doesn’t yield cut-and-dry results easily understood by all
  • Limited clinicians are trained to administer, score, interpret, and speak clearly about the results
  • Variability in testing reliability since some clinicians may not use the manualized system for scoring
  • If a jury or bench trial, seems abstract, so need an expert to explain well 
  • Raw data, such as responses, can be taken out of context by other professionals 
  • Does not parallel the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5)
    • Is not statistically sound for diagnosing mood or anxiety disorders
  • Does not “look” credible at face-value
  • Questions of psychometrics

It remains to be seen whether professionals of the future can accept the limitations of projective testing, while respecting its strengths. However, any psychological instrument has limitations and the significance lies within how the Rorschach is utilized in a case, rather than the characteristics of the instrument itself.