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Is Facebook the New Rorschach?

You all have likely heard about the Rorschach, the famous inkblot test used by psychologists for nearly a century to assess personality and psychological functioning. It is perhaps the most well known (and both admired and hated) of all of the projective psychological tests that include drawings, word association, sentence completion tests, and the Thematic Apperception Test (TAT). All provide amorphous stimuli that require the subject or patient to impose structure onto it revealing themselves in often unintended ways that they may not fully understand or appreciate. The Rorschach is especially fascinating in that the inkblots are very ambiguous, and when the respondent describes what they think the blots represent or look like, they reveal themselves in unconscious ways.

Rorschach inkblot, Source: Wikimedia Commons

Rorschach inkblot, Source: Wikimedia Commons

As a clinical psychologist—using projective instruments like the Rorschach for about 35 years—I have grown very fond of the instrument in many clinical assessment situations. It is a remarkable test that gets at information often hard to obtain otherwise. However, you may have heard that there is a serious problem with continuing the use of the Rorschach. Several years ago the copyright on the instrument expired, and now it is completely in the public domain. Therefore, the validity of the Rorschach has been compromised because anyone can easily access the instrument and learn all about the scoring and interpretation of it with just a few clicks of their computer mouse.

Reflecting on these new problems with the Rorschach made me wonder about a more 21st-century projective test—Facebook!

While Facebook is certainly not a valid and reliable projective-testing instrument used by psychologists, let’s face it, it is indeed a projective test nonetheless. People often don’t truly realize how they reveal themselves on Facebook with their posts, comments, and shared material. As a psychologist, I find it fascinating. You can assess personality and psychological functioning by examining Facebook posts. One has to wonder if the research staff at Facebook is well aware of how their social networking product might be used to diagnosis a wide variety of psychological problems and personality traits and tendencies. I assume they are smart and savvy enough to understand this issue and perhaps use it for their advantage.

Thinking about Facebook as a projective test suggests that users might want to stop and consider for a minute before posting, sharing, and commenting on Facebook. Ask yourself: “What does my comment, post, or share reveal about me as a person?” “What is the larger issue or trait that I am communicating about myself as I interact with this social media platform?” And may I also suggest that, before you post or comment, you ask yourself the following three important questions: “Is it true?” “Is it fair?” “Is it kind?” And if you happen to have a psychologist close by, maybe ask him or her to take a look at your comments before you post.

In the end, if you filter your posts with both respect and compassion, maybe you will never regret a post, comment, or share on Facebook. And perhaps you will also reveal the best of yourself—and never the worst.

By the way, there is a terrific new book about the history of the Rorschach, which you may wish to review.

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*A version of this article was originally published by Psychology Today on Nov. 1, 2016.

Illuminate, psychology, social media

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