Sunday, June 08, 2014

The Bergdahl Rorhschach Test

[Lots of  people leave a movie before the credits are over.  And sometimes the director saves some great stuff for the end of the credits.  This is a post that has some related, but only in a very tangential way, content at the end.  But I think it's worth waiting for.]

[UPDATE June 9, 2014 Anchorage Daily News reporter Rich Mauer offers more detail to the Bergdahl Rohrschach with his interview with four Anchorage soldier's in Bergdahl's unit today.]

Original Rohrschach image from here, but see notes below*

The commentary on Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl reminds me a lot of a Rohrshach test.  In a Rorschach:
[t]he underlying assumption is that an individual will class external stimuli based on person-specific perceptual sets, and including needs, base motives, conflicts, and that this clustering process is representative of the process used in real-life situations.[33] [From Wikipedia]
And we see all sorts of folks 'seeing' in Bergdahl (the external stimulus) radically different things, based, I'm assuming, on those  "person-specific perceptual sets, and including needs, base motives, conflicts."

Some of the things people see in the Bergdahl Rohrschach:
  • Traitor
  • Confused Young Man
  • Sane Young Man Who Reacted To The Insanity Of War
  • Means To Trash The President
  • Republicans Acting Bad Once More
  • Chance To Empty Guantanamo
  • US Commitment To Recover all POWs
  • Negotiating With Terrorists
  • Innocent Until Proven Guilty
  • All Our Soldiers Are Hereos

The traditional Rohrschach Test has very specific techniques for interpreting people's responses.  There are different methods:  The Exner method and the Rohrschach Performance Assessment System seem to be the two major ones.   Wikipedia goes through the basic inkblots and standard interpretations.  And there's even a section on conflicts among the testers over interpretation.

Frustrated with people's seemingly mindless interpretation of current events?  Think of the current event as a sort of Rohrschach test. 

In looking at Rohrschahs,  psychologists looks at more than just what the testers 'see' in the inkblots.  They also look at how they approach the task - for instance, do they take it as given to them or do they ask if they can turn the cards around?  They listen to how the person forms the interpretation.

And we should do the same too.

Everyone's response will be a combination of the respondent's preconceived notions of how the world works and the evidence presented.  The less connected to the facts of the case, the more the response tells us about the respondent than about the case, the more the respondents are projecting their world views, their values, their biases onto the case. 

But none of this is new to most of you reading this. Perhaps for some it's a different metaphor for thinking about this.

The real questions we have to find ways to answer are:

1.   How do we form our 'judgment habits'?  (Yes, they're habits.)  How do we learn to go from evidence to conclusion?   To what extent is this affected by genetics and to what extent by environment? 
2.  How do we learn to balance feelings and rational thinking to improve the likelihood of coming to more accurate assessments?
3.  What causes some of us to short circuit and shut down one side or the other - rationality without any feeling or feeling without any rationality?

I know you can all think of examples of people rationally going through the evidence before they make their conclusions known.   And you know people whose instant conclusion pops out of their mouths as soon as the first tiny bit of (possibly false) evidence is presented.

But sometimes the people that mouth off quickly, loudly, and arrogantly without waiting for all the evidence are right.  And the people who deliberately exam every detail sometimes turn out to be wrong.  A lot goes into 'getting it right' than just these two dimensions. 

There are lots of directions this post could go.  I really wanted to just raise the idea of current events being like Rohrschach inkblots, we learn more about the people talking than about the issue. 

But as I did that, I also started thinking about the wide array of factors that affect good and bad interpretations.  And after barely touching that, I'm already thinking about how we deal with people who aren't rational or who ignore feelings.   But I'm not ready to put all those ingredients together into a satisfying post yet. 
So let me conclude this post with a little seriousness and a little silliness.

*Images (the serious part)

I spent a more time on the images (there's one below too) than I did on actually writing.  Like the two here, most images I use here are originals I create.  But if I use someone else's images (even if I alter them as in this post), I like to give credit.  I found the Rohrschach image using google image search.  But my source clearly wasn't the original, but that site didn't cite its source.  Google reverse image search gave me over 500 locations for the image.  I passed on finding the real original site. I  really don't want to link to a site that used an image without giving credit - and I'm not that impressed with the post the image was in. 

Hermann Rohrshach (the silly part) 

When I was looking up the Rohrschach test, I found a picture of Hermann Rohrschach on Wikipedia.  I was surprised at how young and contemporary - and cool - he looked.  According to Wikipedia,
  "in 1921 he wrote his book Psychodiagnostik, which was to form the basis of the inkblot test."
He was was born in November 1888, so he was probably 38 when the book came out.  In April 1922, again according to Wikipedia:
"he died of  peritonitis, probably resulting from a ruptured appendix.[9]"
He left a wife and two children, ages five and three.  Below is his picture and the actor it made me think (another Rohrschach like test?) should play him in the movie of his life.

Hermann and Matt
Hermann's picture is the way I found it.  It took a little time to find a picture of Matt Damon in a reasonably similar pose.  Then I changed it to black and white, got rid of the background, shrank it, and added the mustache.   I think they'd seem more alike  if you didn't see the pictures side-by-side.  As I look at the two now, I know that readers will think of other actors who look much more like Hermann. 


  1. I don't know if Brad Pitt is too old to play Herman Rohrshach in a movie, but he has the lowering brows like Rohrshach does. Honestly, Matt Damon could play Leonardo DiCaprio, or vice versa...

    By the way, some legal beagle on another blog, when we all were discussing innocence or guilt regarding Bowe Bergdahl, the legal beagle suggested the more appropriate phrase is "innocent UNLESS proven guilty", not "until proven guilty".


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