Projective techniques...where art thou?
Manavi Pathak Nov 28,2011
Any discussion on personality assessment would be incomplete without Projective Techniques. Projective Techniques have had a lengthy and vital history in personality assessment, however they have evoked minimal interest in Human Resource Professionals.
There are several reasons for this : Lack of training/expertise in their usage, obscure quality of instruments and psychometric limitations have restricted their usage. It would be interesting to reintroduce this important technique to the readers through this article.
A Projective technique or test is a generic label referring to a variety of different measurement techniques having several common characteristics. In every approach, the test takers are asked to respond to ambiguous stimuli by attemptingto give them a meaning. All projective technique have unrestricted response format : there are no alternatives from which to select and no points along a scale to mark. The person taking the test is not aware of the true purpose of the test or the psychological construct being assessed. In a sense, all projective techniques are disguised tests. Projective technique has its origins in the psychoanalytic school of thought and have been used as an aid in understanding the total personality of a person. The main focus on the entire assessment process is to explore or uncover the 'unconscious' part of the psyche, which is the store house of hidden feelings, emotions, fears, desires, anxieties and complexes. In projective technique, it is assumed that the test-taker's response to the ambiguous stimulus reveals something important about the personality of the test taker.
Ostensibly, the test taker must describe something about 'someone else' or some 'other' event, rather than something about himself. In his/her response, however, the test taker 'projects' an aspect of his own thoughts, motives and needs. There are several kinds of projective techniques as illustrated in Box 1. The nature of the ambiguous stimuli and the accompanying task varies according to the type of the projective device. In the Rorschach Inkblot Test , for instance, test takers are asked to locate and describe images in a series of 10 separate cards. In the Thematic
Apperception Test (TAT), the test takers are shown a series of pictures or drawings which are ambiguous with respect to the setting, the actors, the situation, events that led up to the situation, and so forth. The test Projective techniques...where art thou?
taker is required to make up a story in response to the stimulus picture. The Rosenzweig Picture Frustration Study presents ambiguous pictorial information in the form of 24 cartoons depicting characters in a potentially frustrating situation. Coming from the mouth of one character is an empty balloon. The subject is asked to write down his idea about what the person could be saying. In the Sentence Completion Technique , a stem of a sentence is presented and the subject must respond by completing the sentence.
Benefits and usage
Projective techniques are sufficiently versatile to be used in a wide range of research strategies and organizational applications. Historically, projective techniques have been a part of the assessment process. Infact, the landmark Management Progress Study with AT&T had used three projective techniques as a part of the assessment procedure. Sentence Completion Test ( SCT) is still the most popular type and continues to be used as a personality assessment tool.
Organizations like Defence Institute of Psychological Research (DIPR) uses Sentence Completion Test (SCT) for the selection of defence personnel. Compared to other projective techniques whose use waned after the latter half of 20th century with the rise of more structured, empirical personality measures, SCT is still popular amongst selection professionals. Few Educational Institutes use projective techniques as a part of the selection or screening process. It has been reported that these techniques can be fun once the respondents get over the initial surprise, selfconsciousness and embarrassment at what they are expected to do.
In Market research, these techniques have been found to be popular. They can be involving and fun for the respondents, tap feelings, perceptions and attitudes that can be difficult to access by more direct questioning techniques and can be a rich source of new leads and ideas for market research. Research has also shown that projective techniques generate respondent's curiosity because they are different, engaging and intriguing. They are more likely to stretch the respondent's imagination than survey questions and scales. Infact, most FMCG's before launching a product at the pilot phase use projective techniques to understand the reaction of the customers.
As a part of coaching or counseling process, projective techniques can provide valuable data. Thematic Apperception Test (TAT) has been used widely in the clinical setting and similarly it has been used as a part of coaching process.. The data gathered through the projective technique provides leads or indications about the individual's behavior that can be later confirmed or invalidated. These have been found to be an integral part of the counseling or coaching process for the purpose of enhancing the counselor and client relationship, clarifying goals and the course of the counseling process. The feasibility or 'practicality' of using projective techniques in personnel selection settings is an issues that is invariably raised by the HR professionals. Two aspects of practicality question are : 1) effort required in collecting data from the projective techniques and 2) the effort required in processing the results.
Since, projective techniques can be administered in a group the ease of data collection can be assured. Processing the data is however far more involved and time consuming that the typical multiple-choice test or Likert type questionnaire. Rigorous training of scorers is required for all these techniques. The amount of training time varies with the type of projective device. For example, most TAT scoring manuals require more than 400 practice stories or more and once the scorers have learned the scoring manuals, acceptable levels of interscorer agreement have to reached. All this is quite complex and time consuming, most selection professionals are unwilling to invest the time and resources it involves.
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