The Rorschach and Cultural Issues

Richard Niolon, Ph.D.

Culture and the Rorschach

Marsella and Lameoka in their chapter Ethnocultural Issues in the Assessment of Psychopathology define culture as a "shared learned behavior that is transmitted from one generation to another for purposes of human adjustment, adaptation, and growth… external referents include artifacts, roles, and institutions. Internal referents include attitudes, values, beliefs, expectations, epistemologies, and consciousness."

Using this idea, behaviors (such as rank ordering ideas according to social acceptability), internal symbols, and identification of artifacts and some reasoning processes would b culturally determined.

However, how does this help us define the degree of "differentness" of a culture? In other words, is everybody in America a part of American culture? Who is part of this culture and another one? Is that the same as having language differences? How much of a difference is required.

There's several approaches to looking at this
1) The Rorschach is Culture-Free - how can blots of spilled ink be a culturally determined stimulus?

2) The blots may be Culture-Free, but our norms fail to adequately represent some of American cultures, SES, education, and thus makes the norms less useful

3) It's not the norms that present the problem, it's --people from different cultures have different personality styles and so some of the variables may be measuring different processes altogether

4) It's not the test, it's how you use it

1) I'll concede to anyone

2) Our norms have some problems in them
Ritzler - Projective Methods For Multicultural Personality Assessment
Ritzler reviews 3 tests and 6 areas in which cultural insensitivity can be seen. He also notes a study of the Rorschach in the client's native language and then in English with a comparison of the results. Level of acculturation plays a big role in the results. People with lower acculturation showed poorer results with an English Rorschach. People with higher acculturation showed better results with an English Rorschach. Same norms were used, so this was only a function of language.

French - Adapting Projective Tests for Minority Children
There's also been cultural attacks here on the HTP as well, noting that children in the Midwest Native American tribes may not draw the same kinds of triangle-roofed-square-body houses, and some have never seen a "tree" any taller than a bush. Some of this could be applied to the Rorschach--think of sandstone cliffs on cards 8-10, and cultural icons that could be seen but might not be clearly explained in English.

Krall et al - Rorschach Norms for Inner City Children
Krall and colleagues at Michael Reese tested 272 African American inner city children from ages 3 to 12. They showed lower F+%, fewer W's and more D's.

R, Rej, Dd, M, P, A%, and Special Scores were not significantly different. They could not retrieve SumC data on everyone, but noted lower color and shading use among inner city children.

Costa and McCrae - Stability and Change in Personality Assessment: The Revised NEO Personality Inventory in the Year 2000
Their article is on the NEO-PI, but their comments about validity scales and "social desirability" is well taken. Different cultures have different ideas about what is desirable socially and what is not. Thus, for tests like the Rorschach, the rank-ordering process and the rejection based on social norms may be a very different process.

There have been differences found in rates of psychopathology… are these real and would they result in differences in the Rorschach?

And for 3)
This one is trickier. What if it isn't an issue of normative samples, but the variables actually measure something different?

Moon and Cundick--Shifts And Constancies In Rorschach Responses As A Function Of Culture And Language

Authors gave Rorschach to American and to Korean students (monolinguals) in their native languages and to Korean-American students and Mormon missionaries (bilinguals) in English. I've rearranged the table from their study a bit to make it more readable.

Native Korean Students in Korea
Korean Students in America (here for five to six years)
American Students in America
American Missionaries teaching Korean in the US
1.05b *
2.75b *
1.04 #

* note that these numbers would present lower EAs; what do you make of this?
# note that all these Lambdas are elevated; what do you make of this?

They interpreted the results to indicate that Korean natives were less likely to integrate percepts (lower W), less likely to differentiate parts of the percepts (lower X+%), and more likely to block associations (higher rejections). They commented that typically Korean society is more controlled and restrictive, and behavior is governed by complex social rules and expectations; considering other alternatives for behavior, and evaluating whether the norms are appropriate is not well-accepted (higher Lambda). The focus on structured relationships between people and impulse control is common (lower M, higher FC). They weren't quite sure what to make of CF+C ratios.

Thus, this would indicate that it is not the norms we use, but the social forces around us and degree of acculturation that determines the responses we give. Consider high Lambda. Here, we know it means a sense of simplicity in responding, and represents a process of rank ordering all answers, screening out complex issues, and focusing only on the most simplistic response reasoning. What if in Korea it represents a process of rank ordering answers, ranking each answer according to social expectations or appropriateness for discussion with a mental health professional, and then reordering the list, giving the most appropriately explained answer, but not rejecting the other answers, only repressing them for the moment? Same answer may be given, but this may reflect a totally different response process.

Ridington - Fox and Chickadee
Ridington was a PhD student doing fieldwork on the Native American population from his home and the Rorschach. What he found was things that we would score as deviant verbalizations or special scores were often symbols to the people he lived with. Their ideas of "reality" and "mythic reality" were quite distinct, and as a student he did not have the schema to incorporate the mythic reality into his understanding until halfway through his studies with them.

Constantino, Flanagan, & Malgady, 1995
Hispanic examinees may be more likely to receive Deviant Verbalization and Incongruous Combination scores due to language differences. They note Hispanics give more color responses, and indexes that contain color, such as EB, EA, and D, are then changed in meaning somewhat. A person may more easily be seen as extratensive (think: If Exner had been doing this in Mexico or South America, he might have altered the weighting of the C scores to make the EB ratio still come out even for Ambitents). Increased color may also decrease F and thus lower Lambda.

De Vos and Borders in their chapter A Comparison of Delinquent and Nondelinquent Families studied Japanese "normal" families and Japanese families with delinquent teens. They noted higher levels of denial and lower levels of H and M in delinquent families, especially to Card III. Japanese as a group gave fewer responses, put more work into integrating them (W>D and Zd higher), and while they gave as many and most of the same populars, for Card VIII they saw a flower in the center, an uncommon American Response. If Rorschach variables do tap into defensive processes, then the defenses of a "normal" and "delinquent" family might both differ from American samples, and so distinctions between A and B (like M and C) on the Rorschach here may not hold up in other countries. Thus, the reason for their study.

They found most of the populars were the same, and found significance for ideas behind M and C, T and Y, as well as trends for significance for V. While delinquent families did not give more aggressive responses, such as those in America do, they gave fewer positive and healthy content responses, more isolated, dysphoric, and evasive (maps and islands) responses, and few positive authority content (badges, helmets, and crests), reports of "playing" between people, and fewer symbols of aesthetic value (vases, chandeliers, etc). Note, that this kind of research required reorganizing the entire content breakdown in order to change some categories, expand others, and reorganize new groups altogether.

For 4)
Consider issues like individualism vs. collectivism, or family vs. individual focus for a successful Hispanic woman who rejects portions of her lower SES mother's stereotyped role expectations for her (e.g., husband, kids, home).

In a strong family-oriented culture, her individual boundaries (DQo or DQV) might have to be more flexible, as her culture requires more concern for multiple perspectives and sources of information (higher D), and concern for the well-being of more than one person. Further, a family orientation could lead to sharing of limited resources (COP or Dd), and more interactions with her family members on a daily basis (Higher H). This kind of focus could stir more complex emotional responses, such as wanting to help a family member but also to foster more independence (higher blends), or annoyance at the demands the family places on her (AG). Cooperating (COP) with this could lead to decreased concern and focus on herself (lower egocentricity) and her goals. Too much of this could of course lead to a defensive reaction (lower Afr) to avoid being overloaded by the family's problems and demands.

Repressing her "majority" ideas at her family gatherings, such as talking little about her career while her sisters talk a lot about their children, could make her very self-conscious (high egocentricity), make her feel a distance from her sisters (FD) that might be anxiety provoking (V) and make her feel left out (Isolate/R). Over time, this could prompt strong emotions about having to experience this conflict at all (higher CF than FC), and either more repression of it (Y) or some resistance to it (S) and maybe avoidance of her sisters (Rejections).

Issues of translation have not been addressed here. On the one hand, it is important to note this, but on the other, it's a bit silly. NO test devised in the US should be used in another country without extensive testing, translation work, and normative data gathering for analysis.

Reflexive tenses, conditional tenses, altered words, and the like could have set up a very different mind set. I know someone who was doing his dissertation on Hispanic emotions being very different since the reflexive qualities of the language often reflect "I have a feeling" or "This feeling is in me" rather than "I feel" or "I decided to feel." Would this effect Ma vs Mp responses… Marsella and Kameoka noted that Americans free associating to the word "depression" came up with responses like sad, blue, down, despair, and dejection." Japanese, responding to the closest Japanese word, came up with "mountains, rain, storm, and dark." Thus, they gave external and symbolically different responses.

Andronikof-Sanglade writes about the psychoanalytic bent of the French, and how they encourage a much more free-associative process when giving the Rorschach. Thus, the same test, regardless of the language issues, is given in a different way.

Marsella and Kameoka recommend:
1) know the instrument well
2) know the client's culture well
3) debrief the client and ask what they thought about all this
4) take detailed notes and watch for what may be ethnocultural clashes
5) consult if needed to aid in #2
6) participate in cultural awareness training

From Dana (1998):
Furthermore, Comprehensive Rorschach System research outside of the United States has raised questions concerning large differences on some variables between normative data collected in the United States and elsewhere (Behn, 1997). Similarly, the meaning of some scores and ratios is also being challenged for Hispanics in the United States and other populations in several European countries (Andronikof-Sanglade, 1995; Constantino, Flanagan, & Malgady, 1995).

Conceptually, this is akin to replicating the factor structure of an objective measure in another country.

Similarly, Sangro (1997) has reported substantial differences between Spanish and American samples who are administered the Comprehensive System. Distinctive Rorschach score patterns (using systems other than the Comprehensive System) have also been reported for Japanese (DeVos, 1989), Japanese Americans (DeVos, 1989), Arabs (DeVos and Miner, 1989), and Apache Indians (Day, Boyer & Devos, 1989).

Those who expresses concerns about using the Comprehensive System norms with members of American minority groups or with non-Americans, are acting in an ethically and culturally sensitive manner.

REFERENCES from the Rorschach Email list, a collection of Rorschachers in correspondence from all over the world….

Andronikof-Sanglade, A. (1995). Interpretation and the response process. Rorschachiana, 20, 49-61.

Behn, J. D. (1997, March). Rorschach X%: Interpretation issues from experience with multicultural populations. In R.H. Dana (Chair), Personality assessment practice with multicultural populations. Symposium conducted at the Society for Personality Assessment meeting, San Diego, CA.

Constantino, G., Flanagan, R., & Malgady, R. (1995). The history of the Rorschach: Overcoming bias in multicultural projective assessment. Rorschachiana, 20, 148-171.
Cuellar, I. (1998). Cross-cultural clinical

Psychological assessment of Hispanic Americans. Journal of Personality Assessment, 70, 71-86.

Dana, R. H. (1998). Cultural identity assessment of culturally diverse groups. Journal of Personality Assessment, 70, 1-16.

Day, R., Boyer, L. B., & DeVos, G. A. (1989). Progressive constriction in Apache youth. In G. A. Devos and L. B. Boyer (Eds.), Symbolic Analysis Cross-Culturally: The Rorschach Test (pp. 293-334). Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Devos, G. A. (1989). Personality continuities and cultural change in Japanese Americans. In G. A. Devos and L. B. Boyer (Eds.), Symbolic Analysis Cross-Culturally: The Rorschach Test (pp. 93-136). Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Devos, G. A., and Miner, H. (1989). Oasis and Casbah: Acculturative stress. In G. A. Devos and L. B. Boyer (Eds.), Symbolic Analysis Cross-Culturally: The Rorschach Test (pp. 201-245). Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Krall, V., Sachs, H., Lazar, B., Rayson, B., Growe, G., Novar, L., & O'Connell, L. (1983). Rorschach norms for inner city children. Journal of Personality Assessment, 47, 155-157.

Moon, T. I., & Cundick, B. P. (1983). Shifts and constancies in Rorschach responses as a function of culture and language. Journal of Personality Assessment, 47, 345-349.

Sangro, F. M. (1997). Location tables, form quality, and popular responses in a Spanish sample of 470 subjects. Rorschachiana, 22, 38-66.