Such tests are based loosely on the psychoanalytic concept of projection, the assumption being that respondents project unconscious aspects of their personalities on to the test items and reveal them in their responses … The website of the Association of Qualitative Practitioners (AQR 2004) defines projective techniques as follows: A wide range of tasks and games in which respondents can be asked to participate during an interview or group, designed to facilitate, extend or enhance the nature of the discussion.
Some are known as ‘projective’ techniques, being loosely based on approaches originally taken in a psychotherapeutic setting.
These rely on the idea that someone will ‘project’ their own (perhaps unacceptable or shameful) feelings or beliefs onto an imaginary other person or situation … Projective techniques may be used in qualitative as well as quantitative studies (Levy 1994) and they are useful (Boddy 2004b) in both. 240 International Journal of Market Research Vol. 47 Issue 3
Projective techniques are commonly used in qualitative market research (Gordon & Langmaid 1990) where the aim of the techniques is to facilitate the gaining of a deeper understanding of the area being researched.
In discussing projective techniques they distance the use of projective techniques in qualitative market research from that of psychoanalytical practice, and suggest a more pedestrian and pragmatic definition: Projection [is] the tendency to imbue objects or events with characteristics or meanings which are derived from our subconscious desires, wishes or feelings.
Dichter (1964) defined projection as meaning ‘to project subjective ideas and contents onto an object’, and said that one person could ascribe their own problems or difficulties to someone else. He described these techniques as being widely used in psychological work (Dichter 1960) and said that they are a non-directive interview technique where the respondent can project himself onto another and thus reveal some of the respondent’s own thoughts, feelings and fears.
Projective vis-a-vis enabling techniques The market researchers Chandler and Owen (2002) define projective and enabling techniques quite succinctly and in a way with which most qualitative market research practitioners (Gordon & Langmaid 1990; Goodyear 1998) would probably agree. This differentiation is useful to make at the beginning of this paper as the techniques are often used interchangeably and the distinction between them may have become blurred in the minds of some qualitative market researchers.
Classically, the idea of a projective technique relates to a device that allows the individual research participant to articulate repressed or otherwise withheld feelings by projecting these onto another character. The idea of enabling techniques relates to a device which allows the individual research participant to find a means of expressing feelings, thoughts and so on which they find hard to articulate. Enabling techniques are held to be the simpler (Will, Eadie & MacAskill 1996) of the two techniques as they just help people to talk about themselves. Will et al. ake the useful distinguishing point that while all projective techniques may be enabling, not all enabling techniques involve projection. Other researchers (Lysaker & Bradley 1957) make the point that even pictorial devices, which do not function as projective techniques 241 Projective techniques in market research (i. e. devices researchers would nowadays refer to as enabling techniques), may still have utility in generating responses. Gordon and Langmaid (1990) state that the use of projective as opposed to enabling techniques is a false distinction in market research as the aim of both techniques is to facilitate deeper understanding.
However, they do go on to say that in enabling techniques people are asked to do something that itself has no interpretive value (and so doesn’t itself need to be interpreted). In terms of analysis there is a distinction because with enabling techniques the research participants are talking as themselves (that is not to say that this speech should always be taken at face value), whereas with projective techniques the research participants are talking as someone else and the researcher makes the interpretative assumption that they are talking as themselves.
This agreement over the definition of projective techniques is about as far as most research textbooks get on the subject. How they are subsequently used is little discussed and how they are then analysed is hardly explicitly touched on at all (Levy 1994; Catterall 1998), which is a situation that has hardly changed from ten or more years ago.
This paper aims to look at current reports of how projective techniques are analysed and what support for their reliability and validity exists, and aims to stimulate debate in this area of market research so that a better and more accessible understanding of the subject can be offered to those entering research as potential practitioners, to interested clients, and to researchers who are more used to a quantitative or direct questioning approach. The origins of projective techniques
Projective techniques were employed in market research from the 1940s (Catterall & Ibbotson 2000) to encourage research participants to express feelings and attitudes that might otherwise be withheld due to embarrassment or fear if more direct questioning methods were used. Market research originally borrowed (Robson 2000; Boddy 2004a) projective techniques from psychoanalysis and clinical psychology where they are still used (Richman 1996) to gain insights into personality and personality disorders.
Projection, as a concept, originated from Freud’s work on paranoia (Lilienfeld, Wood & Garb 2000), where he conceptualised projection as a defence mechanism by which people unconsciously attribute their own negative personality traits to others. Lilienfeld et al. say that Freud’s work 242 International Journal of Market Research Vol. 47 Issue 3 was subsequently developed by psychoanalysts and clinical psychologists.
This development was based on the hypothesis that ‘research participants project aspects of their personalities in the process of disambiguating unstructured test stimuli’, and several different techniques were developed such as the well-known Rorschach technique, or ‘ink-blot test’, where subjects are assumed to project aspects of their personality onto the ambiguous features of a set of inkblots. Projective techniques in market research A commonly used completion technique (Gordon & Langmaid 1990; Will et al. 1996) in qualitative market research is ‘bubble drawing’.
This is a device based on a technique called the Thematic Apperception Test where, according to Tucker-Ladd (2001), clinical psychologists use a series of standard pictures and ask subjects to make up stories about them. TuckerLadd says that what people see in the pictures says something about themselves and thus reveals their personality. Projective techniques can be used in a variety of market research situations as well as in social and educational research (Catterall & Ibbotson 2000), and these do not have to be aiming at uncovering aspects of personality of any great depth.
For example, a bubble drawing was used (Boddy 2004a) by one researcher to uncover students’ underlying attitudes towards the delivery of a lecture on marketing research rather than to uncover any deeper aspects of their own personalities. Projective and enabling techniques are thus useful when research participants have difficulty expressing opinions or feelings and researchers need some way of accessing these from the participants’ minds (Gordon & Langmaid 1990; Kay 2001).