The Lüscher Test: What It Is And How It Uses Colors

The Lüscher Color Test is a projective test. Let’s see what it is and why it is criticized.

Lüscher test

The Lüscher Test is a projective evaluation technique that starts from relating the preference or rejection of different colors with the expression of specific psychological states. It is a widely used test in different areas and has given rise to different controversies due to the nature of its application and its methodological criteria.

We will see below what are some of the theoretical foundations from which the Lüscher Test starts, to later explain the application and interpretation process, and finally, present some of the criticisms that have been made.

Origins and theoretical foundations of the Lüscher Test

In 1947, after having studied the relationship between color and different psychological diagnoses, the Swiss psychotherapist Max Lüscher created a first emotional and psychological evaluation test based on the preference for certain colors and their relationship with personality.

It is a projective type test, that is, an instrument for the exploration of personality and the psyche used for diagnostic purposes in different areas such as clinical, work, educational or forensic. Being projective, it is a test that seeks to explore psychic dimensions that are not accessed by other means (for example, through verbal language or observable behavior).

Broadly speaking, the Lüscher Test is based on the idea that the serial choice of eight different colors can account for a specific emotional and psychosomatic state.

The relationship between colors and psychological needs

The Lüscher Test starts from relating the theory of fundamental and complementary colors, with the fundamental needs and the needs that indirectly intervene in psychological mechanisms.

In other words, it takes up the psychology of colors to establish a relationship between psychological reactions and chromatic stimuli, where it is assumed that each individual reacts psychologically to the presence of a certain color. Thus, chromatic stimulation can activate reactions that speak of the satisfaction, or dissatisfaction, of fundamental psychological needs.

This is considered a universal phenomenon shared by all people, regardless of cultural context, gender, ethnic origin, language or other variables. Likewise, it is defended under the argument that all individuals share a nervous system that allows us to respond to chromatic stimulation, and with this, activate various psychological mechanisms.

Objective component and subjective component

The luscher test takes into consideration two elements that relate psychological states with the choice of certain colors. These elements are the following:

  • Colors have an objective meaning, that is, the same chromatic stimulation causes the same psychological reaction in all individuals.
  • However, each person establishes a subjective attitude that can be either preference or rejection of the chromatic stimulus.

That is, part of considering that all people can perceive the different color ranges equally, as well as experience the same sensations through them. It thus attributes an objective character to the experiential quality associated with each color. For example, the color red would activate in all people equally a stimulating and excited sensation, regardless of variables external to the people themselves.

To the latter is added a subjective character, since it maintains that, due to the same sensation of excitement that the color red causes, one person may prefer it and another may perfectly reject it.

Thus, the Lüscher Test considers that the choice of colors has a subjective character that cannot be faithfully transmitted through verbal language, but which can be analyzed by means of the apparently random choice of colors. This would allow us to give an account of how people really are, how they look or how they would like to see themselves.

Application and interpretation: what do the colors mean?

The application procedure of the Lüscher Test is simple. The person is presented with a bunch of cards of different colors, and asked to choose the card they like best. Then you are asked to order the rest of the cards according to your preference.

Each card has a number on the back, and the combination of colors and numbers allows an interpretation process that depends, on the one hand, on the psychological meaning that this test attributes to each color, and on the other, it depends on the order in which the person has arranged the cards.

Although the application of the test is based on a simple procedure, its interpretation is quite complex and delicate (as is usually the case with projective tests). Although it is not a sufficient condition, to carry out the interpretation it is necessary to begin by knowing the meaning that Lüscher attributes to the choice or rejection of the different colors.

They are known as “Lüscher colors” because they are a range of colors that have a particular chromatic saturation, different from that found in everyday objects. Lüscher chose them from a range of 400 different color varieties, and the criteria for their selection was the impact they had on the people observed. This impact included both psychological and physiological reactions. To structure your test, you rank them as follows.

1. Basic or fundamental colors

They represent the fundamental psychological needs of the human being. These are the colors blue, green, red and yellow. In very broad strokes, blue is the color of involvement affects, so it represents the need for satisfaction and affection. Green represents the attitude towards oneself and the need for self-assertion (the defensiveness of the self). Red alludes to excitement and the need to act, and finally, yellow represents projection (understood as the search for horizons and the reflection of an image) and the need to anticipate.

Reporting a pleasant perception in the presence of these colors is for Luscher an indicator of a balanced psychology free of conflict or repression.

2. Complementary colors

These are the colors purple, brown (brown), black and gray. Contrary to the basic or fundamental colors, the preference for complementary colors can be interpreted as an indicator of stress experience, or of a manipulative and negative attitude. Although they can also indicate some positive qualities according to how they are placed. Likewise, the choice of these colors is associated with people who have experiences of low preference or rejection.

The violet color is representative of transformation, but it is also an indicator of immaturity and instability. Coffee represents the sensitive and the corporal, that is, it is directly connected with the body, but having little vitality, its exaggerated choice may indicate stress. Gray, for its part, is indicative of neutrality, indifference and possible isolation, but also of prudence and composure. Black is representative of renunciation or abandonment, and to a maximum degree, it can indicate protest and anguish.

3. The color white

Finally the white color works as the contrasting color of the previous ones. However, it does not play a fundamental role in the psychological and evaluative meanings for this test.

The position

The interpretation of the test is not completed by simply attributing a meaning to each color. As we said before, Lüscher connects said meanings with the subjective experience of the person being evaluated. In other words, the test results largely depend on the position in which the person has arranged the colored cards. For Lüscher, the latter accounts for the position and direction of individual behavior, which can be Directing, Receptive, Authoritarian or Suggestible.

Said behavior can, in turn, be in a constant or variable position; which varies according to how the link is established with the other subjects, objects and interests of the individual. The interpretive procedure of the Lüscher Test is carried out based on an application manual that includes different combinations and positions of the colors with their respective meanings.

Some criticism

In methodological terms, for Seneiderman (2011) projective tests have value as a “bridging hypothesis”, since they allow establishing connections between metapsychology and clinic, as well as exploring dimensions of subjectivity, which otherwise would not be intelligible. By starting from the ambiguity and the wide freedom of the answers, these tests allow access to elements that are sometimes difficult to verbalize such as fantasies, conflicts, defenses, fears, etc.

However, as with other projective tests, Lüscher’s has been attributed a “subjective” interpretation modality, meaning that its interpretation and results depend largely on the personal criteria of each psychologist or specialist who applies it. In other words, it is concluded that it is a test that does not offer “objective” conclusions, which has generated many criticisms.

In the same sense, he is criticized for the impossibility of generalizing his findings, due to the lack of standardizations that meet the methodological criteria of objectivity of traditional science. Criteria that support, for example, psychometric tests. In this sense, projective tests have a scientific status that has caused considerable controversy, especially among specialists who consider this type of test as “reactive” and who in the best of cases have proposed to systematize them quantitatively.

Thus, this test has been criticized both for the lack of criteria that could ensure both its reliability and for the low possibility of reproducing its results. On the other hand, the ideas of functionality and pathology (and the possible reproduction of biases, prejudices or stigmas of various kinds) have also been criticized, which theoretically support the interpretations of this test.

Bibliographic references:

  • Muñoz, L. (2000). Lüscher Test I. Application and interpretation. Retrieved August 14, 2018.Available at %Yg9dzpugname=wdpdv3dz3dz3ddistentfix3distent3d % 3DLuscher_manual_curso_I.pdf.
  • Sneiderman, S. (2011). Considerations about the reliability and validity of projective techniques. Subjectivity and cognitive processes. (15) 2: 93-110.
  • Vives Gomila, M. (2006). Projective tests: Application to clinical diagnosis and treatment . Barcelona: University of Barcelona.

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