Measurement of Attitude

Types of Attitude Measuring Scales

Attitudes are constructs which are not open to direct observation. Therefore, the common way of measuring attitudes is to study some aspect of behavior and from that makes inferences about the attitudes that may be responsible for behavior.

What's this?

Many different ways of measuring attitudes have been developed, though the more common techniques make use of self-report questionnaires. In general, an attitude scale or questionnaire will present the individual with a number of statements to which she/he has to respond and from these responses the investigator will arrive at some conclusions about the attitudes of that individual.

These techniques include attitude surveys, physiological and behavioral observation measures.

1.   Attitude Surveys

This is the most commonly used technique for measuring attitudes. In an attitude survey, the investigators provide a questionnaire or ask a series of questions on the telephone. A respondent shows his or her attitude, by answering a series of questions. These questions may be open or close-ended. The open-ended questions allow the respondent to provide an answer in his/her own words.

For example, a respondent might be asked— ‘What qualifications do you think are necessary for the Prime Minister of India?’ Although this type of question yields to in-depth information, the answers can be difficult to analyze. Consequently, most of the questions on an attitude survey are close-ended, or restricted questions, such as, 'Are women qualified to be the President of India?'

The respondents would check a box indicating a response, e.g., yes, no, or don’t know. This type of question, forces the respondents into making one of a limited number of choices.

2.   Rating Scales

Another kind of survey item is the rating scale, in which the respondents indicate the extent, to which they agree or disagree with a statement, by circling a number on a scale. There are several types of attitudes scales, but the two most common are the Thurstone and the Likert Scales, named after their authors.

2.1   Thurstone Scales

Thurstone (1929) is credited with having first created the attitude-measurement methodology. He is considered to be the ‘father’ of attitude scaling. He developed one of the earliest methods for measuring the attitudes towards religion. It is made up of statements about a particular issue, and each statement has a numerical value, indicating how favorable or unfavorable it is judged to be (See Exhibit I).

Exhibit I: Thurstone Scale Items Assessing Attitudes Toward Euthanasia (Tordella and Neutens, 1979)
  • Each item’s scale values (range = 1 to 5) is given in parentheses. The respondents do not know the values.
  • A person with a terminal illness has the right to decide to die. (4.15)
  • Inducing death for merciful reasons is wrong. (1.65)
  • A person should not be kept alive by machines. (2.44)
  • Euthanasia gives a person a chance to die with dignity. (4.29)
  • The taking of human life is wrong, no matter what the circumstances. (1.36)

People check each of the statements to which they agree, and a mean score is computed, indicating their attitude. As the developer of the scale needs to make sure, that a wide range of possible views is expressed in the statements used, the Thurstone scales are quite complex and time consuming. This is particularly important, since the only responses allowed are agreement and disagreement. Thus, their main drawback is that they are very time-consuming, and therefore expensive to produce.

2.2   Likert Scales

Likert (1932) proposed a technique, which makes this process simpler by allowing the participant to make a range of possible responses, usually in the form of a five-point scale, ranging from strongly agree, agree, undecided, to disagree, and strongly disagree (See Exhibit II).

Exhibit II: Sample Liker Scale
For each of the statements below, please indicate the extent of your agreement or disagreement by placing a tick (√) in the appropriate box.
1.    People who commit murder should be hanged
Strongly agreeAgreeNeither agree nor disagreeDisagreeStrongly disagree
2.    Trial jury should be abolished
Strongly agreeAgreeNeither agree nor disagreeDisagreeStrongly disagree

With this method, there is no requirement for the judges to categorize each statement, as the categorization is built into the scale. Assigning the score from 1 to 5 to each of the responses, scores the Likert scales. Then the totaling of the score is done, to give a final measure of the individual’s attitude.

2.3   Guttman Scales

Louis Guttman (1947) developed a scale much like Likert and Thurstone, but he placed extreme stress on the instrument, measuring only a single trait (a property called unidimensionality, a single dimension underlies the responses to the scale).

Guttman’s insight was that for one-dimensional scales, those who agree with a more extreme test item would also agree with all less extreme items that preceded it. The items are ordered hierarchically, such that, a positive response to one means positive responses to each of the items prior to it.

The sum of the affirmative responses represents the subject’s level of the attribute under study. The attitude construct is more narrowly focused on this scale, than on the other scaling methods.

The following is an example of a Guttman scale measuring the discriminative attitude:
  • Would you marry a refugee?
  • Would you accept a refugee as a close friend?
  • Do you find refugees living in you neighborhood acceptable?
  • Should refugees be allowed to live in the same neighborhood, as others?

2.4   Bogardus’ Social Distance Scale

This was developed by Bogardus (1926) as a means of measuring racial or ethnic prejudice, a prejudice being seen as an extreme form of an attitude.

The respondent is given a series of statements concerning the possible relationships, and is asked to say to what extent he would accept the relationship depicted.

The scale asks the people, whether they would be willing to accept each group:
  • As close relatives by marriage (1.00)
  • As my close personal friends (2.00)
  • As neighbours on the same street (3.00)
  • As co-workers in the same occupation (4.00)
  • As citizens in my country (5.00)
  • As only visitors in my country (6.00)
  • Would exclude from my country (7.00)
A score of 1.00 for a group indicates no social distance and therefore no prejudice.

The respondents would be asked to tick those relationships they would find acceptable, and overall the scale provides a measure of racial prejudice.

2.5   Semantic Differential Scale

Osgood et al (1957) suggested that people evaluate attitudes along three dimensions: evaluative (good-bad), potency (strong-weak), and activity (active-passive).

To measure each of these three dimension, they developed the semantic differential, a scale consisting of a number of different dimensions, against which the attitude object could be evaluated. The dimensions would typically be:

    1. Pleasant ………………... Unpleasant
    2. Strong ………………….... Weak
    3. Fast ……………………...... Slow
    4. Active ………………….... Passive
    5. Hard ……………………..... Soft
    6. Good ……………………..... Bad

The attitude object is evaluated along each of these dimensions, and the results can then differentiate among the three dimensions of the attitude, i.e. evaluative (1,6); potency (2,5) and activity (3,4).

Using this technique, it is possible not only to find out if the attitude objects are judges as favorable or unfavorable, but also why that might be the case in terms of the three dimensions.

3.   Physiological Measurements

The emotional reactions are reflected by physiological reactions (skin response, pulse rate, dilation of the pupils etc.). Therefore, it makes sense to look at the physiological reactions, in order to find more objective attitude indicators.

3.1   Galvanic Skin Response

The most important objective indicator of attitudes has been the Galvanic Skin Response (GSR). The GSR measure the electrical resistance of the skin, which changes when people are emotionally aroused. Hence, the GSR allows one to assess a subject’s emotional response, towards an attitude object.

For example, in an experiment by Porier and Lott (1967), black and white experimenters touched their white subjects with their hand, apparently by accident. The stronger the subject’s racial prejudices were (which was measured beforehand by a questionnaire), the more the subject’s galvanic skin response changed, when being touched by the black experimenter, relative to being touched by the white experimenter.

As can be seen from this example, the main problem with the psycho-physiological indicators of attitudes like the GSR is that these measures assess the intensity of the emotional responses but not their direction. Many other features of attitude, such as its novelty and its unexpectedness, influence the measures.

3.2   Facial Electromyogram

The facial Electromyogram (EMG) is an objective attitude indicator, which can be used to measure the quality or direction of attitude (its positiveness/negativity). The facial EMG makes it possible to detect the differences between the positive and negative attitudes. When people hear a message with which they agree rather than disagree, there is a relative increase in the EMG activity in a specific set of muscles, but a relative decrease in another set. Most of these changes cannot be seen with the naked eye.

The physiological measures of attitudes are not very often used in practice. One reason may be the above-mentioned insensitivity of most of the instruments, towards the quality of an attitudinal response. Another important reason, however, is the necessity of using technical devices, which are not easily applied in the field sittings.

4.   Behavioral Measures

These methods derive attitude measures from the open, observable behavior patterns. In most of the behavior observation, the subjects know that they are being observed. However, in the non-reactive measurement, the subjects are observed without their knowledge, or, even more indirectly, some of their behavior patterns are analyzed.

What's this?

These types of attitudinal measures are called behavior indicators, observation techniques and unobtrusive measures. For example, in one early study, the investigators measured the voting preferences by tallying the number of bumper stickers for a particular candidate on the cars in parking lot (Wrightsman, 1969).

The other researchers measured attitudes toward the competing brands of cola, by searching through the garbage cans. Still others attempted to determine the most popular exhibit at a museum, by measuring the amount of wear and tear on various parts of the carpet (Webb, Campbell, Schwartz, Sechrist & Grove, 1981).

The unobtrusive measurement procedures are less liable to conscious distortions, than the self-report methods; however, this advantage is gained at the cost of enormous ambiguities of interpretation (such as the questionable validity of the attained measures) and ethical problems.

It is often difficult to determine what these objective indicators mean exactly, with respect to an attitude, and they are often determined by the motives or situational constraints, other than the attitudes.

The lost-letter technique is a good example of unobtrusive measurement. If a researcher wants to measure a community’s attitude towards, say, the foreigners, she might not get honest answers on a questionnaire. But, if she has some stamps and envelopes, she can try the lost-letter technique.

This is what the researcher does: She addresses an envelope to someone with a foreign-sounding name at a local address. She puts a stamp on the envelope, and then drops it on a crowded street near the post office so that it can be easily found and mailed.

As her baseline control, she drops a stamped envelope addressed to someone whose name does not sound foreign. The procedure is repeated to collect a sample. The envelopes that turn up are counted and compared, with the names sounding foreign, with those names that don’t. This reflects the attitude towards the foreigners.

4.  Cognitive Measures

In the recent years, a new test has been developed to tap our implicit attitudes, self-concepts and other important aspects of our cognitive system. The term implicit refers to relatively automatic mental associations. The most well-known implicit measures test is the Implicit Association Test (IAT), developed by Greenwald, McGhee, and Schwarz (1998).

Implicit attitudes are the attitudes that we hold, but are not aware of, so that we are not able to directly report that attitude. These implicit attitudes can only be measured by the indirect means. The IAT aims at determining the strength of the connection between the two concepts.

For example, the IAT asked the test-takers to assign a stimulus, which can be word or pictures, as quickly as they possibly can, to a pair of target. The IAT is an attempt to tap into our unconscious associations. It has been used to explore the unconscious bases of the prejudicial attitudes of all kinds.