Psych Eye for the Qual Guy: A Party Game Called Psychoanalysis

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Here’s the first in a series of practical qual research techniques, tips and tricks drawn from psychology.

A ‘Party Game Called Psychoanalysis’ is a simple projective research group technique used to undercover hidden (private, subconscious) hopes and fears and identify brand communication themes that connect with (hidden) motivations.  It was described by eminent cognitive psychologist Professor Daniel Dennett, author of Consciousness Explained, and is simple, fun, and, in our experience, very powerful.

Here’s how it works…

  1. Ask for a volunteer in the group to participate in an experiment.   Tell them that one person in the group has been recruited because they had a recent dream about the brand (or category).  And their job will be to guess the dream, and guess who it was had the dream.  The only catch is they can only ask yes/no questions!
  2. Ask the volunteer to leave the room, telling them that the dreamer will explain the dream to the rest of the group.  Once they are out of earshot, explain to the group that there is no dream or dreamer!  Instead they are all to answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to questions based on an arbitrary scheme – if the last letter of the last word of the question is in the first half of the alphabet (m or before), answer yes, if not no.  But with a no contradiction override.
  3. Ask the volunteer to come back in the group and let them start asking questions!

What you’ll find is that the volunteer will create an incredible creative story using imagination powered by hopes, expectations and fears. Once they have ‘created’ the dream, and guessed who had it, reveal what had happened and discuss the dream as a group.  Explain to them that the experiment was designed to reveal latent hopes and fears about the brand or category – and discuss the contents of the dream.

Why this is useful.

A Party Game called Psychoanalysis taps into how both creativity and dreaming works (our brain generates an ongoing series of yes/no hypotheses, that are confirmed or disconfirmed by a) reality when we are awake or b) randomly when we are asleep.  The questions we ask however are not random, when and when dreaming they are driven by our hopes, expectations and fears.  As such, A Party Game called Psychoanalysis is useful for generating ideas that have a powerful ‘associational coherence’ (see Kahnemann) with our hope and fears around a brand or category and are therefore more likely to emotionally connect with a target audience.  Try it and see for yourself.


Paul Marsden

All stories by: Paul Marsden

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