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  • Kevan Oswald

Projective Techniques


Projective techniques attempt to disguise the purpose of the research. In projective techniques, respondents are asked to interpret the behavior of others rather than describe their own behavior. In interpreting the behavior of others, respondents indirectly project their own motivations, beliefs, attitudes, or feelings into the situation. There are a number of projective techniques, below are a few of the more common ones.


Association: An individual is presented with a stimulus and asked to respond with the first thing that comes to mind. Word association is a good example. Responses are analyzed and calculated based on frequency. Those who do not respond at all are judged to have an emotional involvement so high that it blocks a response. The pattern of responses and the details of the response are used to determine the person’s underlying attitudes or feelings on the topic of interest.


Completion: Sentence completion – “A person who shops at Sears is ____”. “I would tell the president of the company that makes this product ______.” Also story completion.


Picture Response: The respondent is asked to tell stories about the pictures. The respondent’s interpretation of the pictures gives indications of that individual’s personality.


Cartoon Tests: The respondents are asked to indicate what one cartoon character might say in the response to the comments of another character. The responses indicate the respondents’ feelings, beliefs, and attitudes toward the situation.


Expressive: Respondents are presented with a verbal or visual situation and asked to relate the feelings and attitudes of other people to the situation. The respondents express not their own feelings or attitudes, but those of others. The two main expressive techniques are role playing and third-person where respondents are presented with a situation and asked to relate the beliefs and attitudes of a third person. Useful when there is a need to give socially undesirable responses.


Personified Association: Deeper and richer understanding of the brand or product. Good for comparisons.

1. If this [product, service, etc.] could talk, what would it say about itself?

2. If each of these brands were a car what would it be?


Draw-a-Person: Respondents are asked to draw a stick figure of a person that represents a brand, product, or service and then explain the physical characteristics such as clothing, hair, etc.


Brand Obituary or Epitaph: How would brand X be remembered if it were to die today?”


Advantages of Projective Techniques: The may elicit responses that subjects would be unwilling or unable to give if they knew the purpose of the study. Sometimes the respondent may intentionally or unintentionally misunderstand, misinterpret, or mislead the researcher. Projective Techniques can help overcome this. They are particularly useful when the issue to be addressed is personal, sensitive, or subject to strong social norms. They are also useful when the underlying motivations, beliefs, and attitudes are operating at a subconscious level.


Disadvantages of Projective Techniques: Interpretation bias, unusual behavior, non-representative of the population.

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