L. Szondi

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The Szondi Test



Over a period of more than a decade,, the Hungarian psychiatrist, Leopold Szondi, evolved a number of genetic and psychological theories that became the forerunners of the Szondi test.

Szondi arrived at a sort of genetic determinism, which is a variety of a general philosophical theory of predestination. He himself claims, however, that his work is not philosophical but biological and bio-psychological. His first book, the "Schicksalanalyse" (Fate analysis), presents the chief tenets of his biological theory, which may be stated, briefly, as follows:

The latent hereditary factors in human beings, the recessive genes, do not remain dormant or inactive within the human organism, but exert a very important and even decisive influence upon its behavior. This latent or recessive gene theory claims that these non-dominant hereditary factors determine the Object selection, voluntary and involuntary, of the individual. The drives resulting from these latent genes, therefore, direct the individual's selection of love objects, friendships, occupations, diseases, and forms of death. Hence, from the very beginning of the human's existence there is a hidden plan of life guided by the before mentioned drives. As a corollary, the process of genotropism is developed. Genotropism becomes manifest when two people, because of similar, identical, or related latent genetic elements-the recessive genes-become attracted to each other. Hence, this genotropic attraction determines the choice of love partners, ideals, and friendships.

A detailed psychological and psychotechnological extension of the genetic formulations appears in Szondi's second major work

He feels that "drives," which come forth as a result, of the latent hereditary elements, constitute an intermediate layer of the unconscious. Whereas Freud dealt chiefly with the "Personal Unconscious", and C.G Jung emphasized the importance of the "Collective Unconscious", Szondi has proposed another level of the unconscious the "Familial Unconscious". According to Szondi, this area has been hitherto unexplored. The familial unconscious, which lies between the Personal and Collective Unconscious, is the source from which the "repressed ancestors" direct the selective behavor of the individual.

To quote Szondi: "Freudian psychoanalysis" is the ontogeny, "Schicksalanalyse" the genealogy, and Jung's "Analytical Psychology", the archaeology of the deep mental processes."

Despite the voluminous genealogical material presented by Szondi, it is doubtful whether modern genetics would be willing to lend any support to his theory.

(See:" The Szondi's legacy: Innate Dispositions Influence Our Choices" A sociobiological reinterpretation of the Szondi-theory, by Bereczkei,, on this Forum: New Developments))

At best, it may be said that the effects of the latent recessive genes upon the behavior of organisms in general and of the human species in particular is open to question. Moreover, the determination of dominance and recessiveness of psychological characteristics is a very difficult and laborious process that will require many more years of research and investigation.

Historically, the Szondi test is an outgrowth of Szondi's genetic and psychological theories; but it need not be bound or determined by them. It may be considered separately as an instrument of personality analysis -without adoption of its avowed theoretical antecedents.


The Szondi test materials consist of 48 cards bearing the portraits of individuals representing the following eight psychiatric diagnoses:
1. homosexual (h)
2. sadist (s)
3. epileptic (e)
4. hysterical (hy)
5. Schizophrenic catatonic (k)
6. Schizophrenic paranoid (p)
7. depressed (d)
8. manic (m)

The total number of 48 cards is divided into six sets of 8 pictures each; in each set, all of the above-mentioned diagnoses are represented The majority of pictures were obtained from German textbooks on psychopathology Some of them are of Hungarian patients, and a few others are of Swedish criminals Thus the portraits are presumably of a representative group o western European patients. On the back of each card is the initial (se above of the diagnosis of the patients depicted in the portrait, together -,with a number of from I to 8, indicating the order of presentation of the card in that particular set, and a Roman numeral from I to VI, indicating the number of the set.


The subject is seated facing the examiner. The cards of the first set are laid flat on the table in front of the subject, in two horizontal rows of four each, and in the order indicated on the back of the cards as shown in Figure 1. The subject is then instructed as follows:

"Pick out the two pictures you like best (or most)." After the selection is ma(le he is told: "Now, select the two you dislike most!" The examiner then records the numbers of the cards (or the corresponding initials of diagnosis of the cards) that are "liked," and that are "disliked." The same procedure is repeated with the remaining five sets. The same instructions are usually repeated with every set presented. The results of the selections and rejections are recorded for each set, as described above.

Occasionally, further amplification of the instructions is necessary. Some meticulous subjects wonder what frame of reference they should use for liking or disliking the pictures. They may be told, "Suppose you were to enter a room and meet all these people, which two would you be likely to talk to?"

For some psychiatric patients, the task is quite difficult. Some may say, "1 don't like any of them while others (paranoid or depressed) might state, "But I don't dislike any of them. They are all nice people." In those instances, a modification of the instructions is in order. In the first situation, the subject may be asked to select the two he "disliked least," rather than the two he likes most. In the second situation, the patient may be requested to choose the two he "likes less" than the rest of them, assuming he likes them all.

The time required for a single administration of the Szonditest varies with the subject. Some subjects may require as little as 10 minutes, while others may t-take one -half hour or longer.


At the end of each testing period, a profile based on the choices and rejections of the subject is constructed. The profile is a graphic representation of the results and gives the picture at a glance. It also facilitates comparisons with other profiles obtained on the same or other individuals.

h s e hy k p d m
6 + 6 +
5 + 5 +
4 + 4 +
3 + 3 +
2 + 2 +
1 + _______ _______ _______ _______ _______ _______ 1 +
1 - 1 -
2 - 2 -
3 - 3 -
4- 4-
5 - 5 -
6- 6-

The profile record form, illustrated above, is made up of 96 equal squares. It is divided in the middle by a heavy horizontal line. The space above that line is divided into eight vertical columns, corresponding to the eight diagnoses. There are 6 squares in each column. This upper area is the one where all the "liked" responses are recorded. An identical area below the heavy horizontal line is reserved for the "disliked" responses.

The procedure for constructing the profile is as follows: The pictures liked and disliked in the first (diagnostic category (homosexual) are counted. Then, the number of squares in the appropriate column corresponding to the number of likes are darkened, above the middle horizontal line, which is used as a base line. Similarly, the number of squares corresponding to the number of dislikes are darkened below the horizontal base line. The full profile can be obtained by following this procedure through each of the eight columns.

Traditionally, and for the sake of distinguishing the areas easily, the upper part of the profile (likes) is darkened with a red pencil, and the lower (dislikes), in blue.


In general, the area of positive choices (likes) is given a plus sign (+), while the area of negative choices or rejections (dislikes) is given a minus sign

These generic designations of positive and negative are not altogether sufficient for the recording of the final results in any one column. It is necessary to designate the extent to which pictures of a certain category were selected; to what extent and in which category the genotropism; negative or positive manifest itself. The simple designation of the number of pluses and the number of minuses in any one column is too cumbersome and does not give a clear indication of the "balance of forces" or their direction. Consequently, four categories of choices have been evolved. These categorics are as follows:
Positive (+)
Negative (-)
Ambivalent ( )
Open (0)

The first two categories are self-explanatory. Not all of the choices in a column designated as positive need be above the midline of the profile blank. However, the balance of choices needs to be overwhelmingly in the positive direction in order to achieve this designation. Similar reasoning is behind the negative category. The ambivalent category consists of a minimum of four selected pictures, evenly or almost evenly divided between likes and dislikes. It is a designation of a situation in which the positive and negative choices balance or nearly balance each other. The open category indicates a paucity of "loading" in that particular column, that is, when a maximum of two choices is made, one on either side of the midline; one choice; or none at all.

Positive (+) Negative (-) Ambivalent () Open (0)
+2;0 0;-2 +2;-2 0;0
+3;0 0;-3 +3;-3 0;-1
+4;0 0;-4 +2;-3 + 1,0
+5;0 0;-5 +3;-2 + 1;-1
+6;0 +6;0 0;-6
+2;-1 + 1;-2
+3;-1 + 1;-3
+4;-1 + 1;-4
+5;-1 + 1;-5
+4;-2 +2;-4

A list of the numbers of positive and negative choices (likes and dislikes) that fall in each of the categories described is given in the table above. The first figure in each column of the table gives the number of likes (positive) and the second figure, the number of dislikes (negative).

The MEANING of the Scoring Categories.

Each column in the test profile represents one of the eight test factors or drives. The nature of those drives will be discussed in the latter part of the present chapter. The maximum number of pictures that can be selected or rejected in any one diagnostic category is six. Only three pictures would be the number selected and rejected in any one category by chance. When the total number of pictures selected and rejected in a diagnostic category is four or greater, the factor corresponding to that diagnosis is said to be loaded. From the viewpoint of Szondi interpretation, it is indicative of a tension within the personality -a need for satisfaction in this particular area. By definition, those factors receiving an ambivalent score are loaded. According to Szondi, the ambivalent () score is indicative of a subjectively felt tension in the corresponding area. It is the experience of opposing drives counteracting each other. Conversely, the open (0) score indicates the absence of tension in that particular area. It is a sign that the drives corresponding to that factor are able to find some avenues for their discharge. The positive (+) score representing a predominance of likes of pictures of some particular factor, shows an identification with the drives represented by the pictures of that factor. The negative (-) score, on the other hand, is indicative of a rejection or alienation of those drives.

The SERIES of Szondi Profiles.

Szondi and his co-worker believe that a valid personality diagnosis may be obtained only when the test is administered several times - from six to ten times. They recommend the administration of the test every other day until the desired number of profiles is obtained. The basis for these recommendations is mainly empirical. Since the Szondi profile represents a complex balance and the dynamic relationships of various drives, it is sensitive to delicate, day-to-day changes in the personality. Single profiles obtained may be inaccurate, for they may represent or overemphasize a temporary interplay between the drive factors. Therefore, a larger number of profiles is needed for the achievement of a more valid descrip- tion of the personality and for the detection of the various areas of stability and comparative fluidity.

If the interval between test administrations is less than a day, it is found that such factors as memory and the need to be consistent with previous choices may distort emergence of the true drive-relationships at the time of administration. The experience of Szondi workers justifies a minimum interval of one day, after which the presumably vitiating influences are no longer in operation. To be sure, before the successive administrations of the test, the subject is to be instructed to select and reject the pictures that he likes or dislikes at that particular instant, without regard for his own previously expressed opinions.


The first section in this chapter dealt with Szondi's more general genetic and psychological theories. These theoretical assumptions, as we have already, stated, are not essential to the use of his test. His psychological typology, however, is essential, since the test is based on it. Accordingly, a brief exposition of the Vector-factor theory is in order.

The following four drive-vectors, each subdivided-into two constituting factors, are identified by Szondi and allegedly represent the entire scope of driving forces imbedded in the human personality, "normal" or "abnormal:
I S-Vector the sexual drive
II P-Vector: the paroxysmal-surprise drive
III Sch-Vector: the self-drive
IV C-Vector: the contact drive

Each vector represents a certain personality area that appears in an extremely exaggerated form in pathological conditions corresponding to the two factors that constitute it. While the vector is a designation of a more general drive, the factors that make it up are somewhat more specific drives or need-systems. For the purposes of the test the purposes of the test:


This assumption is the main hypothesis underlying the Szondi method. Thus, the vectors and their corresponding factors are:

I. the S-Vector, made up of the homosexual (h) and sadistic (s) factors;

II the P-Vector, made up of the epileptic (e) and hysterical (hy) factors;

III the Sch-Vector, made up of the catatonic (k) and paranoid (p) factors; and IV the C-Vector, made up of the depressiva (d) and manic (m) factors.

The selection of pictures of the eight diagnostic groups mentioned in the description of the materials is, therefore, governed by this choice of factors. They represent the whole gamut of the extreme manifestations of the factors and the general drives or vectors these factors constitute.

The relationship between the vectors and, particularly, between the factors within each vector, is a close one. In interpretation and personality description based on the Szondi, the interdependence of the various factors must be stressed. However, at this point, an exposition of Szondi's description of each discrete factor is warranted.

1. The (h) factor. Generally speaking, this factor is an expression of the need for tenderness, femininity, motherliness, and passivity. The object is usually a definite person, family, religion, or other institutions. On a higher level, it expresses itself in "collective tenderness," the object being all of humanity. Ordinary occupational interests are in personal services-barber, cosmetician, valet, hotel keeper, dancer, and so on. On a higher level-gynecologist, sex pathologist, and so on. The extremely pathological disorders manifested in this factor may be placed under the general heading of Hermaphroditism. Spying, prostitution, and fraudulent dealings are among the criminal forms of expression this drive may take.

2. The (s) factor. This factor expresses the need for masculinity, aggression, sadism, activity, and virility. It is the masculine drive, the need to be a man, a father, and the dominant (leading) partner. On a higher level of extreme sublimation, the need expresses itself in chivalry, ability of self sacrifice for the common good, and "drive for civilization." Usual occupational interests of individuals with such a drive are farming, animal taming, butchering, prize fighting, and so on. On a higher, more sublimated level, occupations such as surgeon, dentist, anatomist, and operating room nurse, may be expected. Pathologically, this drive may appear in the various forms of sadism, sodomy, pederasty, and the like. Murder (often with a sexual conation. lb) is the common form of criminality.

3. The (e) factor. Here, the damming up of "raw" affect is indicated. There is a need to suppress such emotions as rage, hate, revenge, and anger. A "surprise" reaction via explosive discharge, intolerance of others, may be expected. On a higher level, "collective" righteousness, charity, piousness, and tolerance, may be the expression. Occupational interests are in jobs as foreman, baker, sailor, flyer, and stoker. On a higher level are priest, Monk, missionary, nurse, and others.

Various forms of epilepsy, migraine, stuttering, asthma, and enuresis are among the pathological expressions. Also found are forms of criminality: klepto-pyromania and impulsive murder.

4. The (hy) factor. The major drive of this factor is the need for exhibitionism-to be "on the stage." Szondi calls this factor "the class of latent exhibitionism." The socially positive form of expression of this factor is seen in modesty. However, basically, the need is for showing off and for suddenness (surprise) in behavior. Higher-level expressions of this need are found in acting and in politics. As may be inferred from the abbreviation of the name of this factor- the pathological manifestations are revealed in hysteria, tics and phobias.

5. The (k) factor. "Ego systole" is the descriptive phrase used by Szondi in the exposition of the k-factor (catatonia being spelled with a k in German). lt is the need for "self-compression" or self-limitation. The native, basic form of the need is "to seal oneself off hermetically from the world and to spend the selfish life in the enclosure of the ego." However, since submission to the extreme form of this drive is not feasible, emergency outlets such as narcissism and depersonalization are utilized. Pathologically, the need becomes manifest through catatonic and a variety of other schizoid reactions. At a high level of social adjustment, there is a suppression of these extreme egoistic and narcissistic trends and adaptation to collectivity takes place. Occupations such as logician, philosopher, and mathematical physicist are manifestations of such an adjustment.

6. The (p) factor. In contradistinction to the (k) factor, there is the (p)factor, which represents the need for "self-extension," or what is termed "ego diastole". It is a need aroused from the unsatisfied self-expansion desire for power: megalomania. There is a constant need for self-realization, for recognition of one's unknown capacities and, generally speaking, for furthering the self.

The socially positive and sublimated form of this need is through the furthering of humane needs, creativity, renunciation of the self, and the like. Obviously, the extreme pathological manifestations of this need are in the several forms of paranoia and related conditions.

7. The (d) factor. Here, the basic need is that of seeking and retaining objects. It is most closely related to what the psychoanalysts term anal characteristics. A pressure for rivalry is also related to this general drive. There is a seeking of objects that may, in reality, have been lost, or that it is feared might be lost. Related self-depreciation and feelings of guilt are present. Depression and melancholia are the more extreme pathological manifestations of this drive. lts socialization at the higher positive level may occur in art or literary criticism, supervision of a museum, and so forth.

8. The (m) factor. In this factor of the "Contact-Vector," the need is for clinging to objects. It is an unquenchable need. Even when the object is possessed there is uncertainty about its possession. Thus the trait is that of the oral character, or as Szondi terms it, "the eternal suckling." Oral needs, therefore, are characteristic of this drive. Manic and hypomanic reactions, alcoholism, nymphomania, and satyriasis are some of the extreme pathological expressions of this need. A trend toward speech disorders is in the same category.

The socially positive expression of the drive appears through separation from objects in favor of the "collectivity." Politics and the art of speech are among the occupational areas into which this drive may be channeled.

It may readily be noted that each of the pair of factors in every vector is related to the other; in a sense, one factor of a pair is the reciprocal of the other in that pair. Thus, the S-vector contains tenderness vs. aggression, the P-vector, emotional control vs. emotional expressiveness, the Sch-vector, ego systole vs. ego diastole, and the C-vector, anal trends vs. oral characteristics.


The foregoing discussion of Szondi's vectors, factors, and scoring categories readily indicates the complexity involved in the interpretation of the test. Its administration is relatively simple, but the interpretation, in which the interdependence or dynamic relationship between the several factors must be taken into account, is a highly complicated and difficult task.

In the single test profile, the amount of loading in each factor is determined, the positive and negative, as well as the ambivalent aspects of the loadings are noted, and the estimation of the effects of the factors upon each other yields the qualitative personality characterization. It is in the nature of a description of the intra- and inter-factor "balance of power," each factor representing a need-system, as noted above.

The several administrations of the test project it, so to speak, into a temporal continuum. As a result, we obtain not only a cross-section of a constellation of need-systems within the individual, but also a longitudinal view of the changes in the constellation. Extreme changes from loaded to open vectors, from highly positive to negative vectors, are some of the important indicators of psychopathology that could not have been obtained from a single test administration. Moreover, the areas (factors) of change from one profile to the other, even in the "normal" individual, are important cues to the more significant need-systems in the dynamics of a personality.

It is far beyond the scope of the present exposition to give a detailed description of the methods of interpretation by means of the Szondi test. Information of this kind, accompanied by illustrative case material, has been presented by Deri.


In general, the Szondi fulfills two of the major requirements for a projective technique. In the first place, it purports to reveal the private world of the individual selecting the pictures. It attempts to lay bare the dynamics of his basic needs and drives. Secondly, the subject is not conscious of the fact that he is doing just that. He is not aware of the interpretations that may be placed on his test performance.

Szondi's particular typology and theoretical orientation result in personality descriptions that do not clearly overlap interpretations obtained by other projective methods. To be sure, some overlapping is inevitable, since they all deal with personality. However, whereas the Rorschach is primarily concerned with a cross-section of personality structure and. the TAT with specific need-press relationships, (=transactional processes lb), the Szondi deals with more general drives as related to personality tensions, subjectively felt or objectively "acted out".

The ease of administration and the lack of need for verbal response on the part of the subject recommend the application of this technique to a wide variety of normal and pathological conditions. Whereas other projective methods yield very little in the case of the constricted, rigid, and linguistically handicapped person, Szondi data may be obtained with comparative ease.

The first question concerning any new method or technique of personality diagnosis that may be raised by the critical student is that of validity. Are the personality descriptions and dynamics that result from the test's application truly distinguishing and consistent with the behavior manifestations of the person tested? Unfortunately, the available published material on the Szondi test does not permit an answer to this question. There are, to be sure, published testimonies of the efficacy of the test in personality diagnosis, but they are, for the most part, descriptive and illustrative, rather than validating studies that would meet the rigorous criteria of scientific method.

Another question that may be raised by the critical reader is: Are the four vectors and their eight. factors well chosen and sufficient to account for the major aspects of personality dynamics?

A third question is related to the theoretical assumptions underlying the test material itself. The assumption is that the subject's reaction to the physiognomies of patients reproduced in photographs taps the deeper layers of personality dynamics. How well is this substantiated?

These and many other questions that are closely, interrelated will have to be answered by future investigators before the test can become fully acceptable to the critical and scientific clinician.

The clinical use of such a popular projective technique as the Rorschach preceded critical studies and investigations of 'its assumptions and theoretical foundations. The Szondi test is beginning its career in both directions simultaneously. There are many enthusiastic "Szondi clinicians," but at the same time, there is evidence of an experimental approach to the test as well.

A report by Rabin indicated that the pictures are not meaningless stimuli. He found that students and psychologists identified more pictures correctly as to diagnosis than can be attributed to chance. Moreover, he has shown that the factor of training in the ability to identify the pictures is important ]. The related conclusion is that the pictures have differentiated meaning, and that their being liked or disliked is not a haphazard event. However, it has also been shown that the potency of the picture stimuli in any one diagnostic category varies considerably. Thus, the diagnosis per se is not the only factor responsible for selection or rejection of the pictures. There are apparently additional factors, not accounted for by Szondi theory, related to the popularity continuum. Experimentation with the test on electric-shock-treated depressed and schizophrenic patients appears to be another promising avenue of research.


In conclusion, it may be stated that the Szondi test is an empirical procedure at best. Thus far there are no crucial experiments that would validate the test, its personality analyses, or its predictive capacity. The present "evidence" is of the nature of private empirical proof . The validation is clinical validation by those who employ the method. Future research will indicate the capacity of the test to stand up under the careful scrutiny of experimentation by the research-minded clinical psychologist.

c 1996-2000 Leo Berlips, JP Berlips & Jens Berlips, Slavick Shibayev