Historical context


At an early age, he read the collected lectures and interpretations of dreams by Sigmund Freud. Then he poured through everything the university library had to offer on the subject of physiognomy, from Aristotle to contemporary writers. At 16 (in 1939), he devised a method which used the contraction of individual facial muscles to define a person's state of mind. This involved creating his own system for analyzing character, based on two dimensions, the first "directive-receptive" and the second Aconstant-variable, that remain part of his present-day regulation psychology.

From 1938 to 1941, Max Lüscher also studied the graphological teachings of Ludwig Klages and enriched his own theory of personality or character by borrowing from that of Klages.



He noticed that after taking several wrong turns, he always stumbled upon the right answer by abandoning the conventional approach of choosing categories based on empirical findings and adopting the logical categories provided by the thought processes instead. Although he was not familiar with the philosophy of Immanuel Kant at that point, he clearly recognized that without realizing it, we always apply categories supplied to us by our thought processes in order to label and categorize phenomena. That also made clear to him the corollary that his first priority must be to identify and comprehend categories of thought so that they could then be applied as a research tool. He realized that he should solve the problems by resorting to these logical categories and the unbiased phenomenological method. The process of searching out the best possible precise psychological concepts for categories to be used in his regulation psychology was to take several decades. He knew that, in a departure from conventional psychoanalytical terminology, they could definitely not be defined in terms of physical body parts (e.g. oral, phallic), space (e.g. introverted, level), or time (e.g. archetype, phase).

Chance gives the go-ahead to colors


At that time, even though he was only sixteen, he had already received special permission to attend lectures and seminars on psychology and philosophy at the University of Basel. At eighteen, while still in high school, he learned about the famous test developed by his fellow countryman Hermann Rorschach and developed a method of using the test to assess logical thinking. The psychologist at his school was Professor Probst, who taught students at the university how to use the Rorschach test, and it was Professor Probst who arranged for him to receive an excused leave of absence from school to allow him to write down his new method. He also wanted Max Lüscher to do additional research on the color diagnostics which he had developed for the Rorschach test.

This impetus was to decide Max Lüscher's subsequent destiny.

Even at that early point, his main interest was focused not on the test, and not on the colors, but on the primary goal of understanding the structure of the human psyche. Initially, he was interested in the psychology of color only as it related to the Rorschach test. But because the answer to this problem eluded him at first, he stuck with it till he managed, over the course of five years from 1941 to 1946, to resolve the question in a sufficiently logical and empirical manner.

Unlike many others, he recognized that the sensory perception of color is objective and universally shared by all, but that color preferences are subjective, which is a distinction allowing subjective states to be objectively measured by using test colors. Max Lüscher was given unlimited access to patients and patient records by Professor John Stähelin, the head of the psychiatry department, in 1941. That allowed him, right from the very start, to develop and conduct research on his color diagnostics using patients and schoolchildren from special observation classrooms over a period of six years.

By a stroke of luck, Karl Miescher, the General Manager at Ciba, which was at that time the largest chemical company in Basel, took a personal interest in the psychology of colors, and he made a laboratory, materials, and workers available to Lüscher while special test colors were being developed, which took approximately five years. Between 1941 and 1946, he was engaged in the attempt to sort through 4,500 different shades of color applied to many different materials (paper, metal, wood, film, silk, wool) and find those which provided an exact match for his psychological system.

While he was a student, age 22 to 24 (1945-1947), as director of the Psychotechnical Institute of Basel, he had sole charge of psychological diagnostics for personnel evaluation. This job brought him to the realization that color diagnostics were not only simpler and faster, they also outperformed previously utilized tests in terms of their ability to provide more differentiated and more essential results.



In 1947, when he was 23 years old, Max Lüscher spoke on his color diagnostics in Lausanne, at the first world congress for psychology after World War II. His color test became known in international circles as a result, and its theoretical underpinnings were published in the proceedings of the conference, a volume entitled "La Diagnostic du Charactère" (Presse Universitaire, Paris 1949). This paved the way for Max Lüscher to teach classes on his color diagnostics in Paris at the Sorbonne Department of Psychology and the Paris Ministry of Labor in 1949 and 1950. While still enrolled at the university (1947), Max Lüscher was elected to the board of the Philosophical Society.

The professors of psychiatry, psychology, and philosophy who graded his doctoral examination (1949) found that the psychological merits of the color diagnostics deserved to be ranked "summa cum laude" and noted in the "Laudatio" praising the work that Max Lüscher's color diagnostics would go down in the history of psychology.



After his doctorate (1949), he was elected to the Anthropological Institute of Switzerland, which financed the living expenses of future university professors of philosophy for three years as a stipend. During these three years while receiving the stipend, he lectured in the auditorium of the University Basel, which was always filled to capacity, and worked in his own practice as a psychotherapist, where he relied mainly on dream interpretation, a skill he had acquired in Paris.

A Swiss periodical printed an article featuring his psychology of color, which led in 1952 to a request by the largest German newspaper conglomerate that he come work for them in Hamburg as a consultant. There he signed consulting contracts of several years' duration with, among others, the world's largest advertising agency and, over periods lasting several decades, with top German industrial companies. This gave him ample opportunity to intensify demographic and cultural research expanding the color diagnostics based on statistical studies using large samples.


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