Commonly Used Research Measurement Scales

Commonly Used Research Measurement Scales
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  • 0:06 Measurement
  • 1:03 Thurstone Scale
  • 4:05 Other Common Scales
  • 7:04 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

How do you measure a person's thoughts or feelings when you can't see them? In this lesson, we'll look at common measurement scales that psychologists use when examining thoughts and feelings.


Imagine that you are standing in a forest surrounded by trees. You look around and see two trees standing close together. They look pretty similar, and you wonder which is taller than the other. How could you find out?

In order to understand the differences between people and things, and in order to see patterns of similarities, we have to measure things. We might ask which tree is taller than the other, or examine two different cities to see which is more populous. Psychological measurement isn't that different. It involves evaluating traits like intelligence or levels of anxiety. But, the idea is the same - we are looking for differences and patterns of similarity between people or groups.

But, psychological traits aren't easy to measure. You can't pull out a yardstick and measure which person has a taller intelligence. You can't take a census to find out how populous a person's anxiety is. So, how can we measure psychological phenomena?

Thurstone Scale

That's the question that Louis Leon Thurstone wanted to answer. Before the 20th century, psychological traits weren't measured. Psychology had to do with individuals and theories about things that can't be measured, like the subconscious. But in the first half of the 20th century, people began to look at psychology through the lens of science. Not satisfied with theories, psychologists wanted to scientifically test people's thoughts, feelings, and actions.

But the question was, 'How do you do that?' Thurstone wanted to know about people's attitudes. How did this person feel about a social issue or group compared to someone else?

So, Thurstone developed a scale to measure people's attitudes about subjects. The scale is relatively simple: a researcher comes up with a series of statements about a subject. For example, if we wanted to measure people's attitudes about AIDS, we might write things like, 'People with AIDS got what they deserved,' or 'People with AIDS deserve to be treated like everyone else.'

Then, the statements are given to several judges. Each judge rates each statement on a scale of 1 (very negative about the topic) to 11 (very positive). For example, the statement, 'People with AIDS got what they deserved,' might be rated a 1 because someone who agrees with it would have a very negative view of the topic of AIDS, while 'People with AIDS deserve to be treated like everyone else' might be rated an 11, since it demonstrates a positive view of people with AIDS.

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