Skinner’s Rorshach Test


By Todd A. Ward, PhD, BCBA-D

Founding Editor,

Behavior analysts don’t use projective tests…or do they? The BBC published an article titled “What’s behind the Rorschach inkblot test?” As quoted from the article “The Rorschach is what psychologists call a projective test. The basic idea is that when a person is shown an ambiguous, meaningless image (i.e., an inkblot) the mind will work hard at imposing meaning on the image. That meaning is generated by the mind.”  In behaviorspeak, substitue “verbal repertoire” for “mind” and suddenly the world of projective tests is wide open to a behavioral analysis…and B. F. Skinner himself dabbled in this area early in his career. 

Skinner developed the verbal summator, or what Rutherford (2003) called an “auditory inkblot” test. Rutherford notes “Skinner’s interest in the projective potential of his technique was relatively short lived, but whereas he used the verbal summator to generate experimental data for his theory of verbal behavior, several other clinicians and researchers exploited this potential and adapted the verbal summator technique for both research and applied purposes. The idea of an auditory inkblot struck many as a useful innovation, and the verbal summator spawned the tautophone test, the auditory apperception test, and the Azzageddi test, among others.”

Moreover, in the early days of the journal Psychological Record, at least one behavioral article, by Hafner (1958), was published on the Rorshach.  Harfner noted “Rorschach behavior is like other kinds of psychological behavior, and an interbehavioral analysis of Rorschach test-taking behavior is outlined.”  


You can read a bit more on the verbal summator at the B.F. Skinner Foundation.  They succinctly describe the verbal summator procedure as follows “Participants would listen to the utterances until they thought they understood what was being said. Their comments were then written down. As with the Rorschach inkblot test, participants’ responses would reflect their own concerns and interests, since the sounds had no meaning.”

Tell us what you think about behavior analysts using projective tests in the comments below!  Also, don’t forget to subscribe to bSci21 via email to receive the latest articles directly to your inbox!

Todd A. Ward, PhD, BCBA-D is President of bSci21 Media, LLC, which owns and  Todd serves as an Associate Editor of the Journal of Organizational Behavior Management and as an editorial board member for Behavior and Social Issues.  He has worked as a behavior analyst in day centers, residential providers, homes, and schools, and served as the director of Behavior Analysis Online at the University of North Texas.  Todd’s areas of expertise include writing, entrepreneurship, Acceptance & Commitment Therapy, Instructional Design, Organizational Behavior Management, and ABA therapy. Todd can be reached at [email protected].

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