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What is a determinant?

Conference contribution
Authors Helge Malmgren
Published in 22d International Congress of the International Society of Rorschach and Projective Methods, Paris 17-21 July 2017
Publication year 2017
Published at
Language en
Keywords Rorschach method, determinant, stimulus, movement, colour, form, experience error
Subject categories Theoretical philosophy, Theory of science, Psychology


The standard definition of a determinant in the Rorschach test is: a stimulus property that determines or helps determine the percept. Rorschach theorists have long been struggling with the paradox that the most important determinant according to Hermann Rorschach, i.e. movement, cannot be a determinant in this sense since there is no movement in the inkblots. When a blot part is seen as moving, the physical shape of the part is usually the most important determining stimulus factor for the perception. So a straightforward solution of the paradox is that movement responses are just a special kind of form responses, to which certain non-stimulus factors (kinaesthetic memories) also contribute. There is some support in Rorschach’s own book for such an interpretation, but I want to challenge it. Considering that colour is no more a stimulus property than movement is, colour can as little as movement be a determinant according to the standard definition. Should we perhaps say that the determinant of a colour response is actually the mix of wavelengths emanating from the blot part? A better solution of the paradox is to redefine the concept of determinant altogether: not as a physical property that determines the percept, but as a perceptual property that determines the physical (verbal) response. I will argue that this idea was what Rorschach had in mind, but that he – like so many of his contemporaries – committed what the great Gestalt psychologist Köhler later named ”the experience error”: confusing the percept with the stimulus.

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