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.

From the judges' ratings, each statement is given an average score. Maybe after five judges rated it, 'People with AIDS got what they deserved' ends up with a score of 1.7, and the statement, 'People with AIDS deserve to be treated like everyone else,' ends up with a score of 10.7. Once each statement has a score, you're ready to use the scale.

So, now we have our scale, and we want to see how people feel about AIDS. We take the list of statements to a bunch of people and have each of them mark whether they agree or disagree. For each person, you then get the average of all the items they agreed with. If it sounds complicated, it's not. Let's say that we have the following statements:

  • People with AIDS got what they deserved.
  • I am okay with people with AIDS moving to my neighborhood.
  • People with AIDS should be respected.
  • I would not want my child to go to school with someone who has AIDS.
  • People with AIDS should be treated like everyone else.

When we give this list to Francis, she marks that she agrees with people with AIDS moving to her neighborhood, that they should be respected, and that they should be treated like everyone else. We take the score for each of these statements and average them to get a total score for Francis of 10.3. Judy, meanwhile, got a 3.5 on the scale. We can tell that Judy has a more negative view of AIDS than Francis does by their scores.

Other Common Scales

Thurstone might have been the first, but he wasn't the only one to develop a scale to measure psychological traits like attitudes. There are five common scales used in psychological measurement:

1. The Thurstone Scale: We've already discussed this one. It measures attitudes by having people check off which statements they agree with and then computing a mean, or average, score.

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