BENDER GESTALT TEST (Bender Visual-Motor Gestalt Test)


A personality test based on the way a subject copies nine geometrical figures. It is designed to throw light not only on personality structure and dynamics, but also on perception, visual-motor coordination, and the way a subject attacks a problem. The test is an effective psychiatric instrument in diagnosing both functional and organic disorders.Nine geometrical forms, printed in black on white paper, are presented to the subject, one at a time. They include, among others, a circle with a diamond touching it at one point, a row of twelve unequally spaced dots, and ten columns of three circles each placed at a slight slant from the vertical. The subject is asked to copy each figure on a plain piece of paper {Fig. 15). The examiner unobtrusively takes note of the order in which the various parts of each figure are drawn, as well as any questions, spontaneous comments, or evidence of blocking, resistance, or other significant behavior.The interpretation of the drawings is based on a knowledge of personality dynamics, developmental factors relating to visual-motor activity, and Gestalt principles of perception. These principles indicate, for example, that the twelve dots are not normally seen as separate objects but as a single configuration or pattern (Gestalt). Such patterns are believed to be due to processes occurring in the brain, and any serious disturbance in the Gestalt is taken as evidence of a pathological condition or faulty maturation.The test has been used in many areas of research. One important field is the investigation of visual-motor maturation. Examination of many records has shown that until the age of four the average child will draw only one figure, an enclosed loop, in attempting to reproduce all the designs. The seven year old can copy only two of the simpler figures with any degree of accuracy, but the ten year old can master all but the one that consists of two overlapping polygons. In contrast to these normal children, schizophrenic children continue to use spontaneous whirling strokes long after the normal child has advanced to a higher stage. The test is therefore useful in establishing developmental norms.The second major application of the test is in personality diagnosis. There are many indicative signs of disorder, all of which must be checked against material gathered from other diagnostic procedures such as the circle and diamond, as separate elements instead of a unified whole. This may suggest either an “organization disturbance” as in schizophrenia, or certain diseases involving brain damage. It may also indicate inability to control the movements, suggesting organic involvement.Inability to copy angles, dots, or curves accurately: This generally indicates a disturbance in visual-motor coordination, which may be due to an organic condition, but in some cases may reflect emotional instability. People who lack motor control make sweeping lines that do not stop where they should, or substitute dashes for lines or dots.Interpreting the figures: Some subjects can handle the task only by giving the figures specific meanings—for example, the columns of dots are thought of as flocks of birds. Concrete thinking of this kind is usually pathological, suggesting schizophrenia or organic difficulty.Rotation of figures, left for right: Very young children, children with reading difficulties, and left-handed people tend to reverse the figures. If literate adults do this, it may be a sign of deeper disturbance.Repetition of the same pattern: This tendency is called perseveration, and is a possible indication of brain damage.Primitivization: Childish oversimplification of the drawings, found in mental defectives and organic patients.Impulsivity: A characteristic of psychopathic individuals, who tend to draw hastily, with as little exertion as possible, and produce oversize designs in which the lines do not meet. Bender believes their tendency to leave spaces indicates an inability to complete a task and the desire to leave themselves a way out of situations because of their anxieties and self-doubts.The character of the lines is also thought to be significant—for instance,flattening of curves suggests a “flattening of affect,” that is, shallowness of emotional reaction, while rounding of angles suggests impulsiveness; and sharpening shows an attempt to control underlying disturbances and conflicts. The paper itself is viewed as symbolic of the environment, and a heavy ripping line denotes aggressive tendencies toward other people, while faint, sketchy strokes suggest that the subject is anxious, timid, and lacking in confidence. In addition, tiny reproductions are characteristic of inhibited individuals; and if they draw a box around each figure, it is a fairly sure sign of an intense need for security due to feelings of anxiety. Many subjects also project their conflicts in pictorial form by vacillating between two or more of these tendencies.The Bender-Gestalt test has been subjected to a great deal of study and research. Records made before and after brain injuries or traumatic experiences show clear and indicative differences. The test has also been shown to reflect changes due to a release of emotion after subjects have smoked marijuana. Even more important than these specific experiments is the widespread clinical experience gained over the years. The test has proved to be a valuable diagnostic tool in psychiatry, and appears to deserve its reputation as the most effective test of perceptual motor skills.

Cite this page: N., Sam M.S., "BENDER GESTALT TEST (Bender Visual-Motor Gestalt Test)," in, November 28, 2018, (accessed December 5, 2021).


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