The "Blacky Pictures" are the scariest psychological test ever

How do you make rigorous Freudian evaluations of children without them knowing? Show them a series of pictures about Blacky. Then dose them with morphine and hope that they forget everything about it.

Gerald Blum had a problem. As an academic, he wanted to observe children going through different stages of Freudian development. As a psychologist, he found it hard to get kids to understand the complicated concepts he was studying. He realized that kids could understand very complicated events when they were put in the form of images that might take the form of a story. Then he probably saw a Goofy cartoon. The result was The Adventures of Blacky.

Blacky was a cartoon dog that lived as part of a dog family with Papa, Mama, and a sibling called Tippy. If a girl was taking the test, the psychologist would explain that Blacky was a girl. If a boy was taking the test, Blacky was a boy. The psychologist would then observe the reactions of the children as they were shown a series of pictures of Blacky going about his or her daily business.

The "Blacky Pictures" are the scariest psychological test ever

Blacky's day was a strange one. While it started off with Blacky doing normal things like nursing from Mama, and chewing an old leather strap, it contains bizarre scenes like Blacky watching as a blindfolded Tippy has his or her tail draped over a chopping block, or cowering an angelic pug in a robe recounts Blacky's sins.

Then again, even ordinary actions get weird when Freud is involved. The strap chewing is meant to represent oral sadism. Actions like burying poop near Papa and Mama's house is anal sadism. And Blacky burning with anger while watching Papa and Mama hold paws is the beginnings of an Oedipal complex.

The Blacky Pictures became popular. In early trials, psychologists found that certain groups responded in a consistent, and unique, way to certain images. The use of the test expanded, with psychologists trying to find the different in reactions between everyone from early versus advanced college students to sexual versus nonsexual criminal offenders. Everything was observed and noted.

It was this extensive and careful note-taking that took the test down. As the use of the test expanded, more and more psychologists found that the difference in reactions was minimal, and occasionally contradictory. By the 1970s, the test had fallen out of use, leaving only terrifying pictures behind.

[Via Journal of Projective Techniques, The Handbook of Psychological Testing, American Psychologist]