‘It’s the wild west out there’: Courts frequently use controversial psychological tests

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Rorschach inkblot test.

A third of the psychological tests used in US court proceedings aren’t generally accepted by experts in the field, a study has found.

“A clinician has the freedom to use whatever tool they want and it’s the wild west out there,” says Tess Neal at Arizona State University.

Neal’s team looked at the validity of 364 psychological assessments commonly used in US courts. Assessments were used in a range of circumstances, from parental custody cases to the determination of a person’s sanity or their suitability for a death sentence.

The researchers found that 60 percent of the tests used in US courts hadn’t received generally favorable reviews of their scientific validity in widely accepted textbooks such as the Mental Measurements Yearbook. And 33 percent weren’t broadly accepted by psychology experts, according to nine previously published reviews of the field.
[T]he second most common assessment used according to previous surveys was the Rorschach inkblot test, in which people are asked what images they see in abstract patterns. This has been widely criticized for letting clinicians interpret responses based on their own impressions of a person. “There are questions about its scientific underpinnings,” says Neal.

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