People are complicated. The conflict between our real self and our ideal self creates dissonance in our minds. Our words and actions are often shaped by how we want others to perceive us. We do not always say what we mean, or mean what we say.
The reluctance to say what we really think stems from the fear that our thoughts might not be politically, socially or intellectually correct. To avoid embarrassment, and preserve our self-esteem, we use defence mechanisms, and become experts in making ourselves sound rational.
Driven by the need to preserve our image, our responses are mostly stereotypic; they are shaped by how we want others to perceive us. Only occasionally do we express our heartfelt desires and feelings.
Additionally there prevails a tendency to restrict answers to either a rational or an emotional mental state. For instance if we ask a motorcyclist why he bought an expensive racy motorbike, he might cite rational reasons only, such as speed, style and performance. However emotive reasons such as the desire to project a cool, macho image may be of far greater significance. Similarly, emotive reasons such as status and prestige, as well as rational ones such as performance, have bearing on why people buy expensive cars.
There are also times when participants find it difficult to verbalize their thoughts and feelings, and express them in words. For instance they may find it hard to articulate their feelings for Harley Davidson, and their relationship with the brand.
Due to the barriers cited earlier, asking direct questions in a qual research might not elicit the complete answer nor reveal the underlying issues. To circumvent these barriers, qual researchers employ a wide range of projective and enabling techniques that reduce the gravity of the subject, by viewing the topic from another perspective. They facilitate a deeper exploration of a person’s feelings, and bring forth emotions into the open in a way that she feels comfortable with; enabling researchers to understand in greater detail how consumers relate to a subject.
Enabling techniques facilitate the process by making respondents feel more comfortable in expressing their feelings. Projective techniques on the other hand, are indirect interviewing methods which enable participants to project their thoughts, beliefs and feelings onto a third party or into some task situation.
Enabling exercises have no interpretive value; they purely act as facilitators. Projective exercises, on the other hand, can reveal participants’ thoughts, feelings and motives.
The projective techniques involve individual/group exercises, followed by discussion and reflection. The moderator probes to decipher the inner thoughts of the respondents. She links individual responses with the group, to gauge whether the views that are expressed have broader appeal. Her aim is to keep the participants talking, in an effort to expand and further explore the thoughts, beliefs and feelings that are expressed by the participants.
From an analytical standpoint, in addition to the verbal content from these exercises, the participants’ body language reveals their states of mind, as well as their attitudes, feelings and intentions.
Some commonly used projective techniques are described in the following sections.
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