Projective techniques in market research: valueless subjectivity or insightful reality? A look at the evidence for the usefulness, reliability and validity of projective techniques in market research Clive Boddy
Middlesex University Business School
Projective techniques are often used in market research to help uncover findings in areas where those researched are thought to be reluctant or unable to expose their thoughts and feelings via more straightforward questioning techniques. However, how the findings from projective techniques are analysed and how valid and reliable they are is hardly touched on at all in the market research literature. This paper aims to open this subject up for further discussion and recommends further research into the reliability and validity of projective techniques.
Question: So how do you actually analyse projective techniques? Researcher says: Years of experience in using them and my training as a qualitative researcher has left me with an intuitive knowledge of what people mean when they perform a task in a certain way. (Researcher thinks: I’m tired out after the last group, please ask me an easier question!)
For the past quarter-century there has been a growing use of and interest in qualitative market research (Fram & Cibotti 1991; Miller 1991; Catterall 1998) and the concomitant use of projective and enabling techniques (Miller 1991) within it. A review of projective techniques in market research and their analyses, validity and reliability is therefore, arguably, overdue.
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Projective techniques in market research
Catterall (1998) notes that the way market research is taught is functionalist, technical and narrow-minded, as if market research does not exist within the wider world of historical and societal events. It is perhaps not surprising, then, given this vocational training background, that market researchers ignore their roots, says Catterall, and are largely ignorant of the history behind and intellectual underpinnings of research practices and techniques. This gap in historical and intellectual knowledge may explain the lack of explanation in market research of the analysis, reliability and validity of projective and enabling techniques. This paper hopes to start to fill that gap and to suggest some areas for further research.
A definition of projective techniques
Projective techniques facilitate the articulation of otherwise repressed or withheld thoughts by allowing the research participant or subject to ‘project’ their own thoughts onto someone or something other than themselves. Projective techniques are thus techniques that enable research participants or subjects to respond in ways in which they would otherwise not feel able to respond. Respondents are asked to respond to stimuli and the hope is that they will project aspects of their own thoughts or feelings via the use of the stimuli. The Oxford University Press Dictionary of Psychology (Colman 2001) defines projective techniques as: Any of a variety of personality tests in which the respondent gives free responses to a series of stimuli such as inkblots, pictures, or incomplete sentences. 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...