back to article Doctor investigated for posting inkblots to Wikipedia

A doctor is under investigation for misconduct after publishing 10 inkblots used by psychologists to get insights about a subject's frame of mind. James Heilman told told The New York Times he posted the Rorschach test images in an attempt to demystify the psychological profession. At least two psychologists didn't appreciate …


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  1. barfridge

    Utter Nonsense

    I was talking to a psych friend of mine the other day about how much of a farce these tests are. They are the equivalent of a lie detector - very dubious scientifically, but if people believe in the supposed power of these tests then they will answer honestly.

    So now they will just have to invent some new mumbo jumbo to take advantage of the placebo effect. There is no rocket science involved at all

  2. asiaseen

    So they're

    pissed ff because he's copied their blotter book?

  3. Anonymous Coward

    They're not a medical profession though, are they...

    They're not psychiatrists, they're psychOLOGISTS. You know, like scientOLOGISTS. Given the parallels in their pretending to be something they're not (e.g. science / religion), and their resitance to openness and transparency, one might say that the similiarity in the name is hardly surprising.

    AC, because I don't want all the nutjobs coming after me.

  4. Elmer Phud

    @ asiaseen

    Thanks ;-)

    I spilt some tea and it now has taken on the resemblance of Christ screwing my mother.

    Can the nut-doctors advise?

    Anything that blows thier cabal apart by removing the 'witch doctor' effect is fine by me.

    Is there really any difference between this and the entrails of chickens or goats?

    (apart from the blood, guts and goat curry afterwards) or chucking twigs in the air or tarot cards?

    'Pirate' as they are only after your money - "You need a course of sessions etc. etc.)

  5. Graham Marsden

    "What do make of these Captain?"

    "It's a bird, a cow, a horse with a hat on."

    - William Shatner in Airplane II

  6. Mage Silver badge


    Really are these any more scientific than Phrenology?

    It's so subjective you might as well judge character with a handshake.

  7. TeeCee Gold badge

    Is it just me?

    Or does that second one look like two sysadmins high-fiving as they're run over by a Pizza truck....

  8. Anonymous Coward

    Let me tell you about my mother...

    I find stupid questions from inane people provoke an immedaite stress response, usually involving violence. And they *ALL* look like your insides.

    Mines the one with straps on the back.

  9. Individual #6/42

    Am I reading this wrong

    But are these the first people to claim some sort of copyright over vagueness?

    To quote Douglas Adams.

    "We demand clearly defined areas of doubt and uncertainty."

  10. Anonymous Coward

    If these really worked then they could just make more

    These tests have been provent to be biased culturally but let's ignore that for now.

    Consider this situation: two mentally healthy people both see the same thing in the same inkblots. Then a madman comes along and STILL sees the same thing... Does that mean they're all mad? Does it mean the madman has read Wiki? No!

    The only use for the entire thing may be cold-reading. I couldn't possibly comment. I certainly can't see any science at work here...!

  11. Hermes (nine inch) Conran

    It looks like....

    bollocks to me.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Security by obscurity?

    Isn't that, like, no security at all?

  13. scrubber

    Astrology next...

    Another type of woo bites the dust.

    If your test doesn't work if people know about it then it doesn't work full stop.

  14. James Micallef Silver badge


    Its a bloody inkblot. It doesn't MEAN anything except what you see in it, therefore there cannot be any right or wrong answers. If psychologists are worried about revealing the 'inner workings' its because they'll be exposed as charlatans. Its friggin' unbelievable that such quacks have the power to lock someone up just on their say-so

  15. Anonymous Coward

    Never mind that..

    tell me about your parents!!!

  16. M7S

    They be regretting the revelation of other medical trade secrets then - like leeches

    Interpret that how you wish.

  17. teacake


    "So they're pissed off because he's copied their blotter book?"

    Oh, very good. There can't be many opportunities to use that pun, but well done for finding one.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What does this image look like to you?

    Well doctor, I think it looks like a Rorschach ink blot test.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Who would have thought

    Penises come in so many different different shapes and colours!

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Bring Back Phrenology!

    I briefly shared an office with a psychologist who announced her belief in the importance of the Rorschach. I almost burst into laughter thinking she was being ironic.

    That aside, I don't know any psychologists who think the Rorschach test has empirical value. (And their history is politically suspect if you consider the way they were used to 'diagnose' homosexuality.) I suppose you might conceivably use one to stimulate discussion with a client, but I'm pretty dubious.

    There are some psychological inventories which are closely guarded for reasons ranging from the commercial to the clinical. In those instances disclosure would damage their usefulness. But I'm talking about tests standardised on thousands (or even hundreds of thousands) of people that actually have a high degree of reliability.

  21. Adam Salisbury

    Ever heard of blind testing?

    Bind testing eliminates the possibility that a subjective response to a test has not been influenced by outside factors, some test subjects do not know why they're being tested or what for and sometimes not even those administering the tests know their purpose either.

    This guy explaining in graphic detail what the inkblots mean will result in patients coming in and giving an answer they think the docotr wants to hear, thus making the test completely useless. Sounds like he's in need of his own medicine if he perceives some head-shirnks secret society closely guarding the eternal secret of the inkblots.

  22. John Hawkins

    Rorschach tests are fun!

    I did a test once as part of a leadership course ( big joke - we did a graphology test as well ) and amused myself by filling pages with the stuff I could 'see'. I could explain all the objects to the psycho as well, which worried her a little.

    Rorschach tests belong on a fecking fairground...

  23. Richard 81

    Butterfly with a bomb

    Winy puh-psychologists.

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Quack Quack

    If this was a science it would progress beyond the few blobs he made in the 1930s, but it seems to be quackery, trading on the mythology of a dead guru and not a science.

    Are you seriously telling me that they can't make an infinite set of ambiguous blobs representing things, and that set of things never changes since the 1930s???

    If I said that ink blot on the Wikipedia page, looks like the 'Y' in Yahoo, how would you interpret that using a 1930s book that was written before Yahoo, before TVs, before computers, before Jetplanes?

    The second from last looks like Emu from Rod Hull and Emu, does that have a cultural reference in his book from the 1930s? No?

    The 'bat' one, you understand that bats are very rare now, and animal skins have been replaced by synthetics???? Almost nobody will ever see an animal skin in their life now, yet they are still using the normal response to one of the blobs as an animal skin?????

    What about countries where bats don't exist? Is there one set of blobs for all cultural references? Eskimos are expected to see 'bats'? Athiests are expected to see angels?

    I call quackery on this. This is a cult of people who believe in guru Rorschach, and the blobs should be exposed, because there appears to be pseudo science behind them.

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    A bit like the magic circle

    and with about as much science.

    Oh, and I'm not clicking on that link to the tests and being followed around, you're not going to catch me that easily. Paranoid? Not at all because it's not really me writing.

  26. Steve Evans

    Oh dear...

    I've just had a look at the 10 prints on wiki, and although I did match up with a few of the obvious bat, bird, people answers, some of my other interpretations weren't even on the charts!

    Some of their guideline interpretations seriously depend on particular social backgrounds. One of them has a suggested interpretation of "animal skin", now I can't remember the last time I saw an animal skin, so it's hardly likely to be the first thing that comes to mind. It does however look like my table cloth after I spilt my coffee on it yesterday!

    To me number 10 looks like a carnival by the Eiffel tower!

  27. Rocket


    miffed coz they're exposed as not scientific

  28. Anonymous Coward


    I thought the whole thing about the ink blots was not to come up with some definite description of something but to use it as a guide to see the patient's thinking processes. So it doesn't matter if the inkblots have been published (and I'm sure I've seen them published before) as everyone will come up with different results.

  29. Rob H

    What's the fuss

    This information is publicly available in any decent bookstore or library where they have a section for med/psych students, so maybe there is a copyright violation, but by no means the Doc revealed a "Secret"


  30. david 63

    Can't remember where this came from...

    ...they all look like shrimp to me.

  31. Bfef
    Big Brother

    dig out...

    Dig out an old copy of William Poundstone's "Big Secrets" if you want to know how to cheat the Rorschach test.

  32. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    Bugger I got....

    Zero right.. none of the answers said matress stains!

    Because She knows a good blot or two

  33. Rosco

    @barfridge - placebo effect?

    Sorry, but in what way is a placebo effect involved? A Rorschach inkblot test is not a cure nor in fact is it intended to have any effect whatsoever on the patient. It is an assessment tool (of dubious worth in my opinion but that's by the by) like a stethoscope or a thermometer.

    If you're going to critique something on scientific grounds, it's a good idea to understand the scientific terminology you use.

  34. Samo


    You mean they didn't name the inkblots after that character in Watchmen?

  35. Anonymous Coward


    If you're ever presented with this test, just answer 'breasts' for each one. Variations are allowed (big breasts, floppy breasts, etc)

  36. David Neil

    Public domain

    They have been in the public domain in Hermann Rorschach's native Switzerland, since at least 1992 (70 years after his death), according to Swiss copyright law.

    Alright, it wouldn't be the first time wiki has been wrong, but if they ARE public domain then WTF are they complaining about?

  37. alien anthropologist

    Er.. what is the difference..

    ... between an inkblot test and a CoS e-meter test?

    Nothing.. as both are pseudo science.. (though I prefer the common term "bullshit" better as a far more apt description).

    In fact, many years ago, had to do these inkblot tests in order to get the "appropriate security clearance" on a government project. At the time, I thought it the safest to call each blot a butterfly, bird or flower..

  38. dave 158

    @Graham Marsden

    claiming prior art here - Airplane

    Steve McCroskey: Johnny, what can you make out of this?

    [Hands him the weather briefing]

    Johnny: This? Why, I can make a hat or a brooch or a pterodactyl...

    Dog Bless cut'n'paste


  39. Anonymous Coward

    Old ones are best ones

    As shrink shows each card, patient enthusiastically shouts "Sex!". Shrink concludes: "I'm sorry to have to tell you that you have an obsession with sex". Patient: "ME!? - who's been showing all those disgusting pictures?"

  40. Charles Manning

    How can they show people this filth?

    Dirty old men call themselves doctors!

  41. Bruce 10

    inblot B.S.

    I had the inkblot test when I was a kid (6th grade - US). At the time, as a 12 yr old, I thought it was utter rubbish and stupid. I still do, in my middle age. As a kid, I knew how to game the images. It is rather simple. You can see multiple images in the inkblot, just like looking at clouds. Depending upon what you want to project, choose the interpretation appropriately.

    It was a way for the psychologist to come up with 'results' without doing much real work. Listening and working through a patients views, phobias etc.. takes time. The inkblots give an 'instant' result.. however erroneous it is. There is no science to it.. just a whole bunch of preconceptions on the part of psychologists.

  42. Pete 8
    Paris Hilton


    I saw that, what you did just there.

    Paris, cos if she issued a sentence it would be nicely corrupted too.

  43. Anonymous Coward



  44. gollux


    That cat's out of the bag.

    And they're crazy on VI, IT'S A DRAGONFLY SITTING ON A TREE STUMP!

    IV is my rat terrier looking at me expecting a treat!

    Ah haa haa!

  45. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    May I be the first to say

    what a TwatBlotter.

  46. Martin 6 Silver badge

    They are a joke

    They have been a joke for years with real scientists.

    The trouble is that the 'expert' gets to interprete your answers.

    If you see a 'naked women' - does that mean you are a violent potential rapist or are a caring family man?

    If you see an 'angel' are you a schizophrenic who thinks god talks to them, or a peaceful religious person, or just a fan of medieval art ?

  47. Sorry that handle is already taken. Silver badge

    Taken out of context, truth value increases:

    'if Heilman were a psychologist, it would be "viewed as serious misconduct,"'

  48. This post has been deleted by a moderator

  49. Chris C

    Egads, Brain!

    Egads, Brain, this means head shrinkers will have to TALK to their patients to gain insight into their minds. Oh, the horror!

    Seriiously, these "professionals" are just upset because people might actually realize that you DON'T need to pay a psychologist or psychiatrist (tens of) thousands of dollars to help you solve your problems or deal with things. You just need someone willing to listen and help when they can. Back in my day, we referred to them as "friends", but that word doesn't carry much weight nowadays, especially since the arrival of MySpace and FaceBook.

    Psychiatrists and psychologists think (and want you to think) that they're the only ones who can help people mentally just because they've paid fees for education and licenses. They're as protective of that illusion as the Church is of the illusion that you need to go to church in order to be a good Christian (if God is always listening, and always watching, then why do you need to visit a specific building at a specific time?).

  50. fred slack 1


    When I took the test, age 14, all I saw were sex organs.

  51. Moss Icely Spaceport
    Thumb Down

    It should read:

    "Psychologists have kept the test's inner workings secret for decades out of concern that the inkblots won't make them as much money if people realise it's all a big con."

    And Scientologist don't get on with psych' odd.

  52. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge


    So the secret sauce of blot tests has been internetized? Though luck. I always like it how "the mind" is considered "ach so complicated" but when it gets to analysis it's suddenly somehow relevant how noise pushed through the visual cortex is interpreted.

  53. igor 2

    A placeholder for anything

    I really think these are just placeholders for any random opinion the subject being tested may have. The fact that these images are so vague and only have certain resemblance to one specific object makes me think its just a bogus way of isolating those individuals who contradict popular response. Soooo, mass says rabbit and I say ermm vagina, well there you go, subject is found to have abnormal sexual tendencies and so on and so forth.

  54. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Ever heard of blind testing? # By Adam Salisbury

    "This guy explaining in graphic detail what the inkblots mean will result in patients coming in and giving an answer they think the docotr wants to hear."

    It looks like a pile of bullshit to me. A simple variation of looking at clouds and seeing what images you can see. I always thought there must be some cleverness in the ink blots, but now that I actually see them, there is not.

    It's just a crude visual perception test onto which you projected your interpretation of a 1930s man personal biases.

    You are naked, you have no clothes Mr Emperor, and we can all see your little tinkle in ink blot 4.

  55. northern monkey

    @Adam Salisbury

    One typically performs blind tests using tests that mean something!

  56. Jason Bloomberg Silver badge

    Olympics 2012

    Do psychologist also see the Olympic 2012 logo as Lisa giving Bart a BJ ?

    If they do, what does that say about their obsession with sex ?

    If they don't, why are they at odds with the rest of us ?

  57. Apocalypse Later

    Are they still doing...

    ...that test where they ask "They are putting poison in my food: True or False"? The correct answer used to be obvious, but I reckon it must be an essay question now, with all the concerns about pesticide residues and additives.

  58. g e

    Definitely the Eiffel tower

    and #6 is a Klingon Bird of Prey from above

  59. Marvin the Martian

    @They're not a medical profession though, are they...

    "They're not psychiatrists, they're psychOLOGISTS. You know, like scientOLOGISTS."?

    Well, with economists/ecologists it works the other way around, economy being a religion (see many LSE lecturers still being Marxists) while ecologists study say the foraging behaviour of parasitoid wasps.

    With astronomy/astrology it works though.

  60. steogede

    They all look like...

    They all look like ink spilt on paper which has then been folded in half. Does that make me:

    A. Autistic?

    B. Realistic?

    C. Pedantic?

    D. Argumentive?

    E. All of the above?

    I think if a psycholigst presented me with these, I'd be inclined to tell them to get a proper job.

    @ Adam Salisbury

    >> Bind testing eliminates the possibility that a subjective response to a test has not been influenced by outside factors, some test subjects do not know why they're being tested.

    All well and good, except that everyone over the age of five, who didn't grow up in deepest darkest Amazonia, knows that inkblot tests are designed to test your responses to them. Likewise every knows that if you say they look like people having sex or some such, it's going to set of alarm bells.

  61. Piezor

    Card one....

    ....looks like 2 piglets trying to tear a massive beetle in two.

    What does this mean doctor?

    Mine's the white one with the arms tied round the back.

  62. Cameron Colley

    The Wiki article looks familiar.

    I'm sure I read a very similar explanation of these tests as a child of around 12 or 13. I've also been subject to this test but, if I recall correctly, both were either broken off early or ended up in a discussion of how the test was supposed to work (which is probably when I got to read about it).

    Anyhow, either way these tests are not "secret" in any way and never were.

  63. Yorkshirepudding

    best inkblot test ever

    Mike from spaced....

    [Mike is undertaking a Rorschach ink test; the first card is very obviously a couple having sex]

    Mike: War.

    TA Officer: [Holding the next card] This one?

    Mike: Bomb.

    TA Officer: [Next card] This one?

    Mike: Guts.

    [Next card]

    Mike: Guns.

    [Next card]

    Mike: Guts and guns.

    [Next card]

    Mike: [Happily] Butterfly.

    [The TA Officer frowns]

    Mike: [Realizes] Butterfly with a bomb.

    mines the one with the jaffa cakes in

  64. Tim Schomer
    Paris Hilton

    @Steve Evans

    "To me number 10 looks like a carnival by the Eiffel tower!"

    Thank God! I thought I was the only one..

    Paris 'cos she's probably blotted a few things before.

  65. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    It looks to me like .... a great big steaming pile of bullshit!

    It may appear to "work", but then so does doing a Tarot reading or casting an I Ching or cold-reading or any of those other forms of divination and mediumship which basically amount to spending a lot of time talking to someone and trying to get an intuitive idea of what they're about. The form and even content of the conversation aren't terribly important, it's just an opportunity for the reader to spend some time paying attention to the subject and letting their own subconscious work out what it thinks about them, and the conclusions it reaches are basically intuitive rather than scientific.

    That can still be of use, but disclosing the cards makes no difference to the degree of therapeutic value obtained from the procedure; the only thing that actually matters is having a caring attentive and diligent doctor attending to you rather than an off-hand uncaring and dismissive one. (And that's where the connection with placebo effect arises.)

  66. northern monkey
    Thumb Down

    sue google then...

    There's a very detailed discussion of what one might see in google books (and it's rather easy to get hold of psychiatry journals since they're in the public domain where one can study the effects of gender bias, preexisting conditions, etc on the results). The plates are missing but I'm sure a visit to the local bookshop might throw something up. I'm off to mess with my psychiatrists mind...

    Basically they haven't got a leg to stand on.

  67. Stevie Silver badge


    Alright you smart arses! If psychology is so broken, how did those commie bastards brainwash Laurence Harvey into shooting The President, and Frank Sinatra into covering for him? Eh? Eh? If it hadn't been for a piece of blind luck the entire western world would have been under some commie dictator who looked like one of the guys from Ocean's Eleven (the original, not the remake).

    The Inkblots are a strategic asset in the never-ending hunt for the innocent victims of red plots and the pinko idiot who wikified then should be in Guantanamo for doing so.

    Senator Stevie, Mrs (ret'd).

  68. RW
    Big Brother

    Remember, these are *psychologists*

    They aren't psychiatrists, and they don't have medical degrees. Yes, there are undoubtedly some good people among the ranks of the psychologists, but a lot of them are a few fries short of a Happy Meal™ and their degrees not worth much more than if they'd been bought from a diploma mill.

    "Rat runners" we used to call them when I was in graduate school. Their view of the human psyche is a combination of the mind of the common lab rat and that of the common 18-21 y.o. undergraduate.

    Generally harmless as long as you don't pay any attention to them.

    Big Brother icon, but with the tagline "the doctor will see you now".

  69. Eddy Ito

    @Elmer Phud

    "Can the nut-doctors advise?"

    Yes, I understand card IV is a pain in the testes but that doesn't tell us why the two elephants in card I are trying to climb that little plant.

    Or were you looking for a urologist?

  70. Anonymous Coward

    Card 8

    Simply the most exquisite surviving example of a post-neo-reflectionist interpretation of the famous cubo-dada-fauvist painting titled simply "Stanley Cup."

  71. Graham Marsden


    ... actually Card IV looks like a head-on view of someone riding a Harley Davidson whilst wearing big boots...

  72. Trevor 7

    they are useful for people which want help

    They work because they are used like an IQ test. Give lots of people the test and analyze results to determine trends and probabilities.

    Unbelievably, they only used 10 images (for how many years now). How many questions are there on the SAT tests or the IQ tests?

    As for cheating on the test, the people that want to cheat will always cheat. And have been cheating all along. They know to tell the court ordered psych exactly what they want/need to hear.

    The notion that it will help people cheat is delusional head-in-the-sand denial that cheaters havent been doing this for years.

  73. Anonymous Coward


    How did he get so many pictures of my mother abandoning me?

  74. Geoff H


    All I know is that the second blot ( ) is indisputably a picture of two garden gnomes high-fiving. You can't convince me otherwise.

  75. huwOS

    from tv show Big Wolf On Campus

    Merton: (Looking at the ink blot tests)



    A lonely boy who failed to please his father at every turn...

    Giger: Oh, sorry, that one was upside down.


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