Special Session Summary the Revival of Projective Techniques: Past, Present, and Future Perspectives

Jennifer E. Chang, Penn State University
[ to cite ]:
Jennifer E. Chang (2001) ,"Special Session Summary the Revival of Projective Techniques: Past, Present, and Future Perspectives", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 28, eds. Mary C. Gilly and Joan Meyers-Levy, Valdosta, GA : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 253-254.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 28, 2001     Pages 253-254



Jennifer E. Chang, Penn State University


Derived from clinical psychology, projective techniques have been used in consumer research over the past 50 years in order to understand consumers’ inner thoughts and feelings about products, services, people, behaviors and situations. Projectives elicit what consumers often cannot or will not verbalize in more direct, verbal measures such as interviews and surveys.

The session’s paper contributorsBDennis Rook, Jerry Olson, Jerry Zaltman and Jennifer ChangBeach brought to bear a historical, present and/or future look at projectives and their implications for consumer research. Sidney Levy provided both a retrospective and introspective discussion of projectives.




Dennis W. Rook, University of Southern California

Projective research techniques have enjoyed a highly visible revival in recent years. This methodological family has grown considerably and, arguably, is the most diverse among the main types of qualitative research. Previous efforts at classifying these highly varying techniques are limited by their analytic scope, and by their clinical psychological priorities. This discussion offers a framework that examines particular projective techniques in terms of four key properties: (1) the focal behavior(s), (2) elicited content, (3) task structure, and (4) research process elements. Better understanding of these important differentiating features should help researchers make more informed and effective projective technique choices.



Jery Olson, Penn State University

Gerald Zaltman, Harvard University

We describe two projective tasksCAExpand the Frame" and "Create a Movie/Story"Cthat are steps in the Zaltman Metaphor Elicitation Technique (ZMET). These methods are designed to "dig deeper" than traditional measures to elicit the fundamental orienting concepts (metaphors) that structure people’s thoughts, emotional responses, and behaviors. We review the theoretical foundations of each procedure and describe the interpretation process in some detail. Next, we provide examples of the kinds of insights each method can produce. Finally, we briefly discuss the future of projective methods in general.



Jennifer E. Chang, Penn State University

This research introduces a new projective technique, Personally-Relevant Elicited Projectives (PREP). The PREP method has been designed to tap into the thoughts and feelings of a particular subset of consumers, those who exhibit a resistance to projective tasks. The use of PREP facilitates self-expression by utilizing projective probes not only relevant to the informant’s everyday life but also created by the informant. In particular, the method attempts to alleviate issues of non-response bias. In addition to discussing the value of PREP, supported by examples, we address the process of implementing the technique, and its implications for consumer research.



Sidney J. Levy, University of Arizona

As Dennis Rook pointed out in his remarks, I have been welcoming the revival of projective techniques at intervals for the past 50 years. In the late 1940s I studied them at the University of Chicago as part of my psychological training for the Ph.D. with the Committee on Human Development. A great variety of techniques were in common use at that time. The Thematic Apperception Technique, and numerous adaptations of it, and the Rorschach Test were the most outstanding, but several others had their devotees. In 1951, Harold H. Anderson and Gladys L. Anderson edited a volume, An Introduction to Projective Techniques (Prentice-Hall), that discussed the merits and drawbacks of such methods, including chapters on The Rorschach Test, the TAT, word association, sentence completion, The Rosenzweig Picture-Frustration Study, The Bender Visual Motor Gestalt Test, Drawings of the Human Figure, Graphology, Expressive movement, The Szondi Test, Puppetry, and Psychodrama. In 1965, Bernard I. Murstein edited a volume, Handbook of Projective Techniques (Basic Books), in which he said that more than a half century had passed since projective techniques formally became part of the clinical armamentarium. Clearly, our topic has a lot of background.

It becomes apparent that all behavior is projective when it is taken as indicative of something about the actor. We commonly take each other’s simplest words and movements as having implications and are casually confident about our inferences. At least, the question may arise, as in the joke about the psychoanalyst who was greeted with "Good morning" by another psychoanalyst and thereupon thought, "I wonder what he meant by that."

The presentations this morning show us the contemporary diversity of usage of projective techniques. Jerry Olson illustrated how a visualization and montage task, organized by Jerry Zaltman as the ZMET method, provides insight into both consumers and their conceptualization of their experience with objects in the marketplace. Jennifer Chang did the same thing using another approach, termed PREP, wherein she focused on eliciting an extended somewht ethnographic awareness of the consumers’ detailed experience to better understand the sources of their marketplace behavior. Both techniques fulfill the specific goals of projective methods that distinguish them from direct questioning: that is, to learn what consumers’ ideas, feelings, and attitudes are when they are not able to articulate them, even to be aware of them, or deny them.

To illustrate this denial, as well as the framing process that Jerry mentioned, I recall an instance in my experience when an outstanding creative person at the J. Walter Thompson advertising agency prepared two ads for Cracker Barrel Cheese. One had no people in it, but showed brown bread, mugs, and some game equipment, with a wedge of the cheese standing on its smallest edge. The other showed flowers and teacups, with the cheese wedge lying on a long side. Consumers projected men into the first scene and joked about the erect posture of the cheese, and envisioned women in the second scene with the cheese lying down. When I confronted the agency art director with her great Freudian skill, she was amazed and denied any deliberation, saying it had just seemed more natural to do it that way.

The fundamental use of metaphor is widely known, of course, and studied in various disciplines. Here, marketing study is making explicit use of the metaphorical character of projection. Freud compared the processes and mechanisms of the human mind to military operations when he noted that regression is like an army falling back to better- defended positions. He used hydraulics in talking about the damming up of psychic energy. And he moved into electricity as it became more prevalent, in saying that the cathexis of some object was like a positive electrical charge. In our times, we use the computer to create new metaphors: falling back on some stereotype might be called the defaultCitself a metaphor about lack or failure.

Dennis Rook gave us a splendid overview. His paper is an excellent contribution to thinking about projective methods in an organized way, laying out ideas about their varying character and offering practical guidance to thinking about how and when to use them. The three papers provided a well integrated workshop, combining a good orientation with satisfying specific detail, and should encourage continued creative use of our projective abilities.