Performance Of Dyslexics And Nondyslexics On The Rorschach Ink Blot Test

Ann Williams was a very experienced clinical psychologist whose home was in North America but whose family had had connections with Wales. She therefore

Table 15.1. Frequency distribution of differences in dyslexia index between first and second assessments

Difference

Frequency

+2

1

+1.5

1

+1

-

+0.5

3

0

3

-0.5

2

-1

4

-1.5

3

-2

4

-2.5

-

-3

1

Adapted from Miles (1993a)

Adapted from Miles (1993a)

came over to Bangor to study for her Ph.D. This was in the 1970s. At this stage we felt we knew a certain amount about the cognitive deficiencies of dyslexics, but we certainly knew very little about them on the personality side. It seemed, therefore, that it would be worth while to ask, 'What effect does being dyslexic have on someone's personality?'

During my time with the Tavistock Clinic (1953-54) I had been taught how to use the Rorschach ink blot test, and this was an area in which Ann had received very thorough training. (The standard textbook on the Rorschach test is Klopfer and Kelley, 1943). We decided, therefore, that she should give the Rorschach ink blot test to some of the children whom I had assessed as dyslexic and that she should go out to schools in order to test controls. During a winter vacation it was also possible for her to return to New York, where she was able to test further children.

In the Rorschach test the subject is presented successively with 10 cards. The cards are not pictures of anything specific, but subjects are told that different people see different things in them and are then asked to report what they themselves can see. After several responses have been given to each card the tester, at his or her discretion, passes on to the next card. On the first run-through the tester needs to be careful not to suggest any particular response. When the subject has seen all 10 cards, the tester returns to the first card and tries to find out - again avoiding any direct suggestion - what it was about the card which made the subject respond in that particular way. This was called the 'inquiry' stage. Finally the tester goes through the cards yet again, with no restriction on direct questioning ('testing the limits' stage).

The Rorschach test has a complicated method of scoring. The tester records whether the subject was influenced by the shape of the blot, its colour (five of the 10 cards have colour on them), its texture, the presence of responses indicating movement and the presence of responses indicating activity by humans or by animals. The test is not much used nowadays and doubts have been cast on the validity of its

Table 15.2. Total numbers of responses by dyslexic and control subjects to the Rorschach ink blot cards

Dyslexics Controls

10, 12, 10, 10, 15, 10, 10, 13, 23, 14, 23, 18, 26, 14, 17, 10, 9, 11, 5, 10, 10, 11, 10 19, 20, 24, 19

Adapted from Williams and Miles (1985)

predictions, which in the hands of some testers seemed rather speculative. However, there is nothing methodologically unacceptable about presenting subjects with ambiguous or unstructured stimuli and recording their responses.

The subjects were 15 dyslexic children between the ages of eight and 16, and 12 suitably matched controls. We were fairly confident that we could recognise dyslexics clinically, but at the time the Bangor Dyslexia Test was not yet in its final form. It had been checked that all the subjects were of no lower than average in intelligence. As a safeguard each subject was given the test on two separate occasions, several months apart, but the differences between the results on first and second testings were small enough to be ignored.

The results of the study surprised Ann. As an experienced clinician she could recognise the presence of psychosis and of organic brain damage, but with the dyslexic children there was no evidence of either. Yet their responses were very different from those of the non-dyslexic controls.

The main finding was that the dyslexics totally failed to exploit the many possibilities offered by the cards. They responded primarily to their shape, rather than to their colour or texture; they very seldom turned the cards round to get a different view of them and they gave many fewer responses overall. Table 15.2 gives the total number of responses by each child; Table 15.3 gives the percentage of 'form' responses (that is responses influenced only by the form or shape of the blot), while Tables 15.4 and 15.5 show (in two different analyses) the number of card turnings. (For confidence levels see note 15.2).

Failure to exploit the possibilities of the cards was clearly not due to any lack of intelligence. Yet the typical dyslexic in the study gave only one response per card and was influenced only by the card's shape. It is as though they were saying to the tester, 'It's a bat - and that is all I am prepared to tell you about it.'

Two explanations have suggested themselves. The first is that the dyslexics deliberately chose to keep their responses simple because of feelings of uncertainty in any

Table 15.3. Percentages of 'form' responses by dyslexic and control subjects to the Rorschach ink blot cards

Dyslexics Controls

80, 66, 90, 90, 67, 50, 60, 70, 60, 53, 52, 30, 25, 42, 14, 35, 50, 60, 54, 100, 100, 90, 55, 70 50, 94

Adapted from Williams and Miles (l985)

Table 15.4. Number of card turnings by dyslexic and control subjects

Dyslexics Controls

O, l, O, O, O, l, l, O, O, O, O, O, O, O, O ll, S, 4, lO, 5, lO, รณ, 7, O, lO, 8, 4

Adapted from Williams and Miles (l985)

Table 15.5. Total numbers of dyslexics and controls who did and did not turn the cards on at least one occasion

Group

Turned card at least once

Did not turn card

Dyslexics

3

12

Controls

11

1

Adapted from Williams and Miles (l985)

Adapted from Williams and Miles (l985)

situation which threatened to become complex. Their experience was that whenever they 'let themselves go' they were at risk of slipping up and incurring someone's displeasure. In the rather unusual social situation in which they found themselves, that is having to respond to a stranger who presented them with cards having patterns drawn on them, since a single response was socially acceptable it was wisest not to risk anything more complex. This was the explanation originally favoured by Ann Williams and myself. More recently, however, I have come round to a view which now seems to me to make better sense in the light of what is known about the cognitive limitations of dyslexics. It is that thinking up names of objects requires effort -to say that an ink blot looks like a bat or a map of Africa makes a significant demand on a dyslexic's cognitive resources, and giving only a single response involves a considerable saving of effort.

I do not know if either of these explanations is correct, but I have found that Ann Williams' findings have regularly provided an interesting discussion point for my students.

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