Qualitative Market Research
Purpose – This paper aims to examine the use of projective techniques for published marketing and management research in the USA. The paper emphasizes the influence that McClelland, Atkinson, Clark and Lowell’s study, The Achievement Motive (1953), has had on subsequent research. That work applied quantitative analysis to responses obtained using projective techniques.
Design/methodology/approach – The approaches used in this paper consist of descriptive historical methods and a literature review. The historical analysis was conducted using Kuhn’s 1967 conception of paradigms, showing that the paradigm from which projective techniques emerged – psychoanalysis – failed to gather many adherents outside the discipline of psychology. The paradigm failed to gain adherents in US colleges of business, although there are some exceptions. One exception is managerial motivation research, which built on the traditions of The Achievement Motive. The literature review suggests that, despite lacking institutional bases that could be used to develop new adherents to the paradigm, projective techniques were used by a number of researchers, but this research was marginalized, criticized or misunderstood by adherents of the dominant paradigm, positivism.
Findings – Some of the criticism directed at projective techniques research by positivists involves criticism of the paradigm’s assumption that humans have an unconscious, and a belief that projective techniques are unreliable and invalid. This paper points out that a growing number of cognitive psychologists now accept the existence of an unconscious, and measure it using the “implicit association test.” This paper argues that the IAT is an associational test is the tradition of word association. Moreover, the literature review shows that projective techniques are much more reliable than critics contend, and exhibit greater predictive validity than many positivist instruments.
Research limitations/implications – As with all literature reviews, this one does not include every published research study using projective techniques. As a consequence, the conclusions may not be generalizable to the studies excluded from the analysis.
Originality/value – The paper is one of the few to assemble the literature on projective techniques used in several disciplines, and draw conclusions from these about the applicability of the techniques to market research.