Feb 15, 2007

Adapting projective techniques in research - Part 1

Projective Techniques - Why do we use those in Research

Originally used by psychologists to understand the subconscious aspects of one's personality - projective techniques involve getting people to respond to ambiguous stimuli with the assumption that it 'projecting' their inner thoughts and feelings on to the stimulus would be less threatening / intimidating than speaking about those directly

These techniques have found their way into market research a) As way of tapping into the consumer subconscious and b) an alternative and often easier way (v/s direct questioning) to get consumers to express themselves. In the 1st application these tools allow 'projection' of repressed subconscious thoughts and in the 2nd case they are meant to facilitate / enable the articulation of thought (may / may not be subconscious) otherwise difficult to express .

What to consider while designing research involving Projective Techniques

The use of projective / enabling techniques in research can be fun or NOT depending on which ones are used, how many are used in a given research session and how those are incorporated and executed. I have sat through some research sessions which only involved executing one technique after another - for 3 hours. Like anything else stretched beyond the limit, it left me with a bunch of tired and sometimes even angry respondents waiting to charge out of the research facility. There is a another particularly disastrous interview that comes to mind - with an oldish man who was quizzed about computer peripherals. I had to first ask him to personify the product and then the brands (yes not one but 3) in the category. The man could not conceive computer parts / brands as human beings to save his life. I could only empathise with him ! (In my defence I did not design those studies :)

Which One to use - These techniques becomes counter-productive if we do not keep into mind the audience we are talking to, while designing the research. An older audience may not respond well to the idea of imagining products / brands as human beings - a concept that a younger audience may relate very easily to. Similarly I have often found housewives who have been out-of-touch with 'writing' find it very difficult and sometimes even embarrassing to fill out their responses in writing. Talking comes more naturally to them as we know only too well :) The output of activities such as completing thought bubbles, sentence completion, or even simple self completion questionnaires end up as half completed sentences amidst a paragraph full of scratched out words.

How many to use - When used intermittently with discussions they sometimes act as energizers besides fulfilling their primary purpose. But when someone decides to do a marathon run with executing 10 techniques in a row - then its a case of greed and foolishness.

How to execute - The 3rd factor to watch out for is how is one actually going to execute the tool. In everyday life people do not go around filling out thought blurbs, playing word games or imagining their toothpaste as a human being. Although these techniques are meant to 'facilitate expression' we often forget that switching from our normal mode to doing what these techniques expect can pose a barrier to expression in itself. It helps therefore if people are not expected to respond to a cold question, if the researcher leads by example, if the activity is made to be a little bit of fun rather than an exercise that expects the person on the other end to perform.

I have learnt that part of the ease of expression happens because of the mood / frame of mind people are put in and if they are able to relate to the activity they are asked to do, intuitively.

As much as I've been part of disastrous research , there have also been some studies which have been sensitively designed with some interesting adaptations to the use of projectives - which was the reason why I started writing this post today. I'll save those anecdotes for part 2

Projective Techniques,Projective Techniques and qualitative research,qualitative research,


Laurence said...


Excellent introduction - I love projective techniques. It's amazing how much info we can get out of them if they are used properly. One or two exercise for an hour depth are usually enough.

I remember interviewing this oncologist about taxanes using the Wedding Reception (personification technique).

You should have seen the look on his face when I asked him who Taxotere would be at a wedding! Once he got started he loved it.

Manish said...

nice musings...about 6 years back in delhi, attended a packaging research for a leading honey brand...which had used some projective techniques on some very bright, chirpy and restless-to-go-home-and-play kids!!

8/8 of the kids couldn't for the life of them personify the honey brand, but the stubborn. stupid researcher persisted...

finally one smart kid figured a way out of the stalemate...he started narrating a bizarre story about honey and flowers and his home kitchen...judging by the smirk on his face...i think he was just having a whale of a time fibbing...while the dilligent researcher kept noting the details of this roller coaster story.

The packaging remained unchanged...

but yes on most occassions, the results had very positive and helpful! am no trained researcher, but i have used some of the variations working at Leo Burnett. wud await the next in the series!! cheers M\

Reshma Anand said...

Laurence - I would be seriously scared if i had to use projective techniques with senior medical professionals - scared both for my life and the future of research :)

Manish - welcome to the blog! I've not done enough work with kids and therefore cannot comment on the efficacy of using projectives with kids. Though thinking about this issues my understanding is...kids imagine / create fantasy characters, superheroes - however my understanding is they do so spontaneously. Perhaps the 'imagine -something-for-me-now' approach may be a more adult thing. I am only guessing.

From whatever research i have seen with kids - most of it has been short, simple, activity based - even then those tasks have been deliberately designed to be quick and uncomplicated. Your comment has set me thinking about how good or not projectives are with kids.

Manish said...

thanks reshma...looking forward to your future posts. i also discovered dina mehta's blog through yours...

guess there will be enough interesting conversations in the future! cheers

Katia said...

Very nice Reshma! I find projective techniques very amusing... in moderation, we get so much out of people. The ones I particularly like are collage and personification. The fact that people don't feel the "pressure" of doing/saying things that theoretically don't come from them (even though in reality things do come from them) makes it for a richer research in a way. People are more at ease of not being judged and gladly participate - as Laurence mentioned.

One research technique that's become increasingly popular here is ethnography, which many people argue is more true to reality than other tecniques. What have you guys heard about it? We should explore it.

Reshma Anand said...

Katia - what do you guys do with the output of the collages...other than trying to find patterns amongst those images and scanning the output - is there anything else done?

With things like collages, self completions etc i somehow find that the attention - these techniques receive while the research is being designed / executed - is not the same as the attention we give to the output once the research is over. Somehow due to the paucity of time - the output from these techniques is looked at as a final check when the presentation is written to just validate / substantiate the spoken word. Have you encountered that too?

Do you do any Ethnography for web based research...if so - lets talk about it

allovertheplace said...

Hi Reshma, it's interesting to see someone has actually taken their quali research experiences and turned them into a blog. Ironically, I found you while trying to google for new projective techniques - the hunt for projectives never ceases, at least where I come from!What I like most was your observations on the collage - yes, I agree, we really don't do much with it beyond a point. In fact, given how much precious time it takes and how little we manage to get out of it, I actually actively discourage my teams from using it unless strictly necessary. But then again, the imagery it provides is actually very useful if you look at it closely enough - given the same pool of pictures, the different choices that different sets of consumers make,leads to very telling stories!

Best of luck with your reasearch hunt, and do share intersting projectives if/when you stumble across some. I worked in BLR for the longest time; live in Mumbai now.

Reshma Anand said...

allovertheplace...You a qual researcher too? Drop me a mail with your email id..just to stay in touch.

Qualitative Research said...

thanks for sharing.. I like this, because it related to my study