Exploratory Research :

Projective techniques and provocative questions in qualitative research

Projective techniques are a form of 'covert' questioning. These methods of questioning allow facts to be established by transferring (projecting) them onto other people or objects, both real and fictional.

Projective techniques originate from tests that were originally developed for psychoanalysis and motivational research (e.g. Rorschach). They involve asking participants questions using mental images, metaphors, associations and comparisons, which by analogy reveal unconscious feelings and emotions that are difficult to verbalise.

It is the art of asking questions in indirect, roundabout and hidden ways. But what's the point? Is it really more effective than asking the question directly? 

Helping to verbalise the subconscious

People are often unaware of how they behave or feel about certain issues, as this is largely unconscious. Projective techniques can be used when it is too complicated to respond explicitly

They are used to:

  • reveal the unconscious
  • avoid rationalisation
  • explore the imaginary and representations
  • facilitate the expression of feelings, emotions and motivations

Some examples of projective techniques

We use the following projective techniques in in-depth interviews and group discussions (and many more):

  • Chinese portrait: if this product/brand was an animal, a colour, music, a dish, etc. what would it be? Then explain participants their choice.
  • Imagine and describe the typical consumer of this product/brand (describe them physically, their style of dress, their personality, their lifestyle, etc.) to understand how the brand/product is perceived.
  • Planet exercise: if this brand were a planet, describe it (its atmosphere, its inhabitants, etc.)
  • Party exercise: different competing brands in the same product category are invited to a party. Get participants to describe the different “guests”, their attitudes and their interactions to understand market dynamics and positioning. 
  • Collages: choose photos, images, materials that are reminiscent of a brand/perfume, etc. then explain the choices and what they evoke.

Only experienced moderators can use projective techniques

The method places high demands on the facilitator. It is not easy to get the participants to overcome their inhibitions, to express themselves in pictures and to express their feelings. A good facilitator will find out how to do this and with which means of expression the participants are most comfortable.
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