Emotive Analytics

Psychodramas – Neuro Behavioral-Cognitive-Emotional Focus Groups

I admit it.  I just made that title up.  Sort of.

I did it for two reasons.  First, to get attention by leveraging some buzz words (particularly neuro) that seem to be everywhere these days in marketing.  Second, and most importantly, I made up the title to characterize a research technique that’s better at evoking and assessing compelling drivers of consumer behavior than traditional, dare I say, focus groups.

I’ll be honest.  I’m not fond of traditional focus groups.  That’s not to say that traditional focus groups have no value.  They can and do, especially when conducted by highly trained, highly skilled moderators for the right purposes.  But traditional focus groups are too often poorly conducted and/or applied.  Even when they are used for the right purposes (in short, developmental idea generation), they can fall short for a variety of reasons including insufficient time for building rapport, insufficient time for deep individual elaboration, social demand challenges, and problems with semantic memory to name a few.

If you are interested in conducting focus groups because you like to get targeted consumers together to open-endedly talk about targeted products or services (nothing wrong with that), I’d like to introduce you to an alternativepsychodramas.

Psychodramas involve respondents (called “protagonists”) re-enacting relevant behavior in a group setting.  They are led by a “director” (analogous to a focus group moderator) and include other group members as “auxiliaries,” the “audience,” and even, when called for, substituting for inanimate objects.

Like traditional focus groups, psychodramas offer the following…

  • Opportunities to watch and listen to your targeted consumers in-person;
  • Group interviewing in which respondents play off of each others’ comments;
  • Opportunities to show products; and
  • Opportunities to open-endedly explore deeper issues.

But, when conducted correctly by a highly skilled psychodramatist, psychodramas offer two benefits that focus groups can’t match, no matter how good the focus group moderator is:

  • They naturally build stronger rapport (which gets more to the truth by creating comfort that mitigates defensive rationalizations).
  • Most importantly (and here is the tie-in to this article’s title), they more readily “neuro-dynamically” activate and bring to the surface unconscious emotions and cognitions that drive consumer behavior.

Neuro-dynamically?  What the heck is that?  Again, a word I kind of made up.  But the word does reflect an accurate foundation.  The foundation comes from the fact that people’s past behavior, thoughts, and emotions are neurologically connected in their brains.  All three dynamics (behavior, thought, and emotion) are encoded together when they happen.  Some encoded associations are stronger and last longer than others depending on (among other things, I’m sure) repetition and significance to one’s well-being.  (Significance to one’s well-being is where emotions come into play.  Events that have more significance to one’s well-being receive stronger emotional encoding.)

Back to psychodramas, when people re-enact relevant events, they invoke the behavioral component of the original encoding, which activates the other components, including the emotional component.  Automatically, and often surprisingly because unconscious forces are unleashed, emotions and their associated cognitions surface and can be examined more deeply.

Tian Dayton, a renowned psychodramatist, put it nicely in her book The Living Stage: A Step-by-Step Guide to Psychodrama, Sociometry and Experiential Group Therapy:  “All action is motivated by some inner impulse.  …Behavior is, in a sense, concretized thought and emotion.”

Traditional focus groups lack the behavioral activation.  When people only talk about their experiences, their memories are all they have to draw upon.  However, when they actually re-enact their experiences, their ”action” forces emotional associations to emerge.  Yes, respondents can certainly manage these emotions — i.e., explain them away if they don’t want to talk about them when they become visible.  But this is less likely in a group situation with a good psychodramatist.  Why?  First, rapport is stronger, so respondents feel more comfortable sharing their feelings.  Second, emotions are more exposed, so attempts to explain them away become more difficult (again, particularly with an expert psychodramatist).  Third, many respondents don’t feel a need to hide them, so when they emerge, they are more than happy to share them with others, if not learn about them for themselves.

In short, psychodramas are not just an interesting, entertaining twist on interviewing people.  They have a functional advantage over traditional focus groups that is founded in how people are naturally “wired” to behave — i.e., through neuro behavioral-cognitive-emotional connections.

So I hope we are OK with the made-up title.  To read more about psychodramas, come back in the next week or so where I will feature a highly trained psychodramatist in the next installment of Ask the Emotional Expert.

(And please contact me if you would like to conduct psychodramatic research!)

Until next time…

Leave a comment


  1. Renata Livramento

    Hi Paul, what’s up?!

    Concerning the title, we are ok..rsrsrsrs

    Very interesting this article, and it seems to me very plausible too. However, my experiences with psychodrama are only in psychotherapeutic contexts, I really would like to see an exemplo of this usage. Can you indicate me some public video (like in you tube, for ex), that I can see it in action?

    thanks a lot and best regards from brazil,


  2. Hi Renata…

    I’m so sorry. I don’t have, nor do I know of any, psychodrama for market research videos. You can see it somewhat in action at these two links:



    However, you’ll have to adjust for consumer research vs. therapeutic settings. Perhaps the greatest difference is that the dramas don’t get heavily into having respondents “work through” their emotions — just bring them to the surface and explore them.


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