What are Projective Techniques?

Projective techniques are essential qualitative research techniques for those looking to understand how consumers think, feel and behave. Vision One are experts in focus groups, depths and ethnography, and this article explains some of the things you need to know about the topic and the benefits to your business.

The Rorschach Test

Projective Techniques Explained

Projective techniques have their roots in clinical psychology. They are creative exercises used by qualitative researchers to help simplify the nature of conversations, especially for those relating to more sensitive subjects.

Implementing such techniques allow moderators to go beyond consumers’ immediate conscious awareness and discover their nonconscious thoughts, feelings and behaviours. The idea of a nonconscious action has been underpinned by the development of brain scanning, neuroscience, and the rise of behavioural science – all giving validity to such a process existing.  

Why are they necessary?
There are numerous reasons why individuals may be unable or unwilling to reveal how they feel about a subject. One reason is that people generally want to be perceived as conforming to the norms of the group or society that they are in, regardless of whether they feel that way. This is a mechanism to avoid rejection from society or groups – one of the strongest drivers of human behaviour. Many people also struggle to verbalise particular thoughts and feelings, and projective techniques are powerful at obtaining these. 

Examples of Projective Techniques

When it comes to creative techniques, there are numerous options for a moderator to employ, depending on the audience and the subject matter. These techniques also add some fun to a session making it more interactive and opening conversations across the group.

Below are just some of the techniques in the moderator’s toolbox and the project techniques used in market research today. These include; Word Association Tests, Laddering, Brand Mapping, Brand Party, Blob Tree, Hierarchy Game, A Letter to, Withdrawal Technique, Imagery Associations and Personification activities.

Brand Personification
Word Association technique
Laddering Projective Technique
Brand Personification

Brand personification is really for when you want to discover more about a brand and break through rational responses.

Q, Now I would like you to imagine that if this brand X came alive and became a person, what kind of person would it be?

Pro-tip. The important thing here is the follow-up questions. Don’t stop after one but ask 3 or 4 different scenarios depending on your area of interest. E.g. If this brand is a celebrity, who would it be? Why?If this brand was someone at your workplace, who is he/she? 

Word Association

The aim of word association is to identify top of mind associations with an activity, category or brand.

Q. “What comes to your mind when I mention the word chocolate?”

Pro-tip. Use a warm-up exercise before you ask this question. For example; What comes to your mind with the word ‘Confectionery’? Then you can  proceed with your actual question after the warm-up.


Laddering is a classic qualitative research technique that is great for gaining a deeper understanding of consumers.

The aim is to uncover emotional  and functional benefits (or reasons) for a particular activity.

It’s similar to Word Association, but it doesn’t stop at asking words or ideas about ‘Chocolate’, for each word they provide, you ask a followup to understand what they associate with each word offered. For example with chocolate you might ask about ‘indulgent’, ‘treat’, milky, smooth etc.

The Rorschach Test is arguably one of the earliest examples of projective psychological tests, in which subjects’ perceptions of inkblots are recorded and then analyzed using psychological interpretation, complex algorithms, or both. Some psychologists use this test to examine a person’s personality characteristics and emotional functioning.

Benefits of Projective Techniques

Its Fun

They are more fun for respondents, which means you get the most out of respondents. This can be important when the subject matter is dry and potentially less engaging.


Projective techniques are often more interactive. They typically involve stimulus and even gamification and always encourage respondents to react.


Projective techniques often look at problems from a different perspective. They are ideal for Ideation and Co-creation studies and are  excellent for pushing creative boundaries.

New Insights

Using innovative questions often leads to new ways of thinking and fresh insights.  They often prevent respondents from using pre-determined responses.

Deeper Insights

Most projective techniques are designed to allow us to go deeper into their subconsious mind by circumventing people’s defensive systems when shy or embarrassed.

Exploring Emotions

Often research can become overly rational and this can make understanding desires and motivations difficult to assess. However, projective techniques can overcome this.

Our Qualitative Experts

Charlotte Baird Head of Qualitative Vision One
Charlotte Baird

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Vision One is a specialist Qualitative Research Company offering UK and international qualitative research across B2B ((business) and Consumer research.

Our highly regarded qualitative research includes Focus groups and Depth interviews which can be conducted anywhere in the world using suitable venues or online research.


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