Assessing and representing peoples’ perceptions of hazards or new technologies is a part of cognitive psychology. It is still a great challenge for social science research on biotechnology as well as other technologies to reduce the impact of potentially influential information or even wording of questionnaire questions on peoples’ responses. This case study investigates how card sorting combined with multidimensional scaling, cluster analysis and property fitting can be applied to investigate peoples’ perceptions of different biotechnology applications in a representative sample of the Swiss population. Therefore, an experimental approach was chosen, to investigate which criteria people spontaneously use to evaluate and categorise biotechnology applications. A free card-sorting task using risk as a criterion versus no imposed criterion was applied. A total of 29 cards onto which different biotechnology applications were printed were made. Data were analysed using multidimensional scaling, cluster analysis and property fitting and were represented in a cognitive map. Results show that the experimental manipulation did not result in a different cognitive map of biotechnology applications. People distinguished between medical and non-medical applications, and results of the property fitting show that people use their perceptions of benefits associated with the biotechnology application for categorisation. It appears that peoples’ evaluations are not strongly influenced by the criteria used in questionnaires but that the descriptions of the applications and the associated benefits appear to be more crucial for categorising biotechnology applications.