The ability to influence situations is directly related to how one behaves and communicates. Together, positive factors conglomerate to a strong, and positive attitude. Measuring attitude is a complicated thing. Probably, the most progressive way of finding out an individual’s attitude is asking them. Nonetheless, attitude is related to self-image, and social acceptance, so one would be willing to open up on other weaknesses. In order, to sustain a positive image, people’s responses may be affected by social desirability. Given this dilemma, several methods of measuring attitudes have been designed. Different measures handle different components of attitudes such as cognitive, effective, behavior, and a whole host of others.
Semantic Differential method Osgood & Suci (1957) is a straightforward tool of measuring attitude. The tool works by asking individuals to consider a subject on a standard set of adjectives of opposite meaning. Each of the adjectives is represented in a point scale. Preparing a semantic differential scale requires that one thinks of a quantity of terminologies with contradictory meanings that apply in the subject to be tested. In this case, we will present the participants with the word “ HIV” and give them range of attitudes to describe the word “HIV”. Respondents mark to demonstrate how their feelings on the issue at hand. In semantic differential, information is revealed on the three bases of attitudes that include the process of evaluation, activity, and potency (McLead, 2009).
McLeod (2009) record that evaluation focuses with individual’s negative or positive thinking about some random topic. Evaluation includes the assessment of environmental stimuli and cognitive process that influence individual’s thoughts on certain aspects of life. Evaluation also directly relates to the mood, as well as emotion and behavior. According to McLeod, potency explores the power of the topic on the individual. Potency explores issues such as the individual’s level if cruelty, willingness to dialogue, strong or weak. Lastly, SD explores activity, which relates to how passive or active the topic becomes to the subjects. The above information is helpful in finding out if an individual’s feelings on the issue are consistent with their behavior. To take the example of a person can claim to be religious but not go to church, mosque, or temple often. The evaluative dimension makes the study of people’s attitude possible. This is because it reflects the affective aspect of attitude (McLeod, 2009).
Let us assume that we are examining subjects’ attitude on HIV. As a component of the study, we intend to incur the subjects’ attitude on HIV. We can only come up with an answer if the subjects report their feelings. Semantic Differential helps us analyze the subject’s response. We start by determining the dimensions along which the subjects will judge the selection. Then we look for two opposite terms that represent the two extremes. While one extreme end affirms the existence of HIV as the leading cause of death, the other end affirms the nonexistence of HIV and the overrating of the disease. We can also have additional extremes that support the extreme analysis. In this case, the additional comments can ask if the existence of HIV is conspiracy, or it is a reality.
Once we have determined the relevant dimensions, and have found terms to represent the extremes of each; we prepare a rating for each subject. This means we prepare a rating for the deadliness of HIV and the lack of threat of HIV. To avoid creating bias, the placement of terms that conflict must be varied. For example, words such as illusion and reality must be separate. Heise (1970) found out that the SD test works better with the additions of adverbial quantifiers. Adverbs such as quite, slightly had a greater impact on the outcome of attitude measures. Moreover, subjects reported were easy to work with and more representative of their feelings. Today, the use of adverbial quantifiers is commonplace in the measurement of attitudes.
Example of Semantic Differential
Alternative form, using unmarked, continuous scale (with central position):
HIV is the leading cause of death
HIV is not the leading cause of death
HIV does exist
HIV is conspiracy
May be HIV exists
May be HIV does not exist
HIv could exists
HIV does not exist
The popularity of the semantic differential scales in marketing research is mainly due to the ease with which the scale can be administered and the clarity with which it reveals the results. Osgood’s Semantic Differential involves repeated judgments of a concept against a series of descriptive polar-adjectival scales on a 7-point equal –internal ordinal scale. Subjects are encouraged to use the scale as quickly and as honestly as possible and not to puzzle over any concept. Reliability of the differential is high and the measure has a high degree of face validity in measuring attitude.
The Semantic Differential has a number of advantages for researchers. According to Mindak (1961), the Semantic Differential is a quick and efficient means of getting irrefutable for large samples with intensity and varying opinions and attitudes towards a given concept. In addition, the SD provides a comprehensive picture of personality and attitude because of its standardized technique of getting at the premise of factors that make up an onion. Moreover, the test is easily repeatable over many different sample groups. Because of its repeatability, it is possible to use the SD as a continued measure sensitive enough to note change in people’s reactions overtime. Most importantly, the SD eliminates some of the problems associated with phrasing questions such as ambiguity and overlapping statements.
Difficulties in Measuring Attitudes
The challenge that arises from using the SD as a measure of attitude is the scale relevancy or the social interactions. A single set of scale used over time provides a relatively insensitive measurement for some subjects. If this were to be to the outcome, it would not be objective if the sample of attitudes were large (McLeod, 2009). The SD also has a problem of homogeneity in attitudes. If the traditional methods were used and compared with the SD, there is a big different between average attitudes within groups. Still, the measurement of various attitudes on the SD provides valuable insights on issues that were previously obscured. Moreover, the difference in attitude is usually smaller that one might expect. In view of (Babbie, 2012), the most important contribution of the SD is the condition of a solitary attitude space for all stimuli. This provision permits analyses, comparisons, and insights that were hidden for conventional instruments.
Usually, an attitude scale is designed for providing a valid, or accurate, measure of a people’s social attitude. Still, attitude scales do not provide comprehensive results while measuring people’s attitudes. A number of problems are cited for this failure; however, the most important explanation for the lack of accurate measurement of attitude is social desirability. Social desirability refers to people’s propensity to give politically correct or to act to the needs of the questionnaires (Oppenheim, 2000). People usually, out of human desire give answers that make them appear accepted, unprejudiced, democratic, and open-minded. Studies on people’s beliefs on issues such as race, sex, or religion are affected by social desirability.
Wealleans (2007), report that scholars have devised a method that seeks to eliminate the problem of social desirability while evaluating attitudes. This includes the use of indirect measures that include the use of projective tests. The projective tests include the use of ambiguous stimuli such as pictures or words. The subject is then asked to interpret the information. The person’s attitude is then inferred from their interpretation of the incomplete stimuli. For example, if the study wants to test on people’s attitudes towards people of other races, a picture of a person of a different race be presented. The respondents will then be asked their view of the person of the different race. If the response is majorly negative, then we would have realized the goal. The assumption using the projective measure of attitude is that the subject will project personal views. The projection then becomes an instrumental tool in understanding the inside view that the individual holds. The setback from using the indirect method is that it does not provide an accurate measurement of attitude strength. The reason is that it is qualitative and does not rely on quantitative data. The lack of scientific evidence inhibits the full acceptance of the method by scholars in psychology.
An overwhelming number of scales have been developed for the purposes of exploring human attitudes. Still, there has not been a firm conclusion on the best method of measuring an individual’s attitude. This paper has used Osgood’s Semantic Differential to demonstrate how the tool can be applicable in measuring of people’s view on religion. A clear analysis of SD has been given together with its setbacks and advantages. This paper has also raised the dilemma that comes with measuring people’s attitudes that arise from social desirability. At the end, the paper presents some solutions that can be used to counter the problem of social desirability.
Babbie, E. (2012). The Practice of Social Research. New York: Cengage Learning.
Heise, D. (1970). Attitude Measurement. Chicago: Rand McNally.
McLeod, S. (2009). Attitude Measurement [Social Psychology]. Retrieved June 16, 2012, from http://www.simplypsychology.org/attitude-measurement.html
Mindak, W. A. (1961, April). Fitting the Semantic Differential to the Marketing Problem. Journal of Marketing, Vol. 25, (No. 4), pp. 28-33.
Oppenheim, A. N. (2000). Questionnaire Design, Interviewing and Attitude Measurement. New York: Continuum International Publishing Group.
Osgood, C., & Suci, G. (1957). The Measurement of Meaning [Book]. Retrieved April, 2012, from http://The Measurement of Meaning
Wealleans, D. (2007). The People Measurement Manual: Measuring Attitudes, Behaviours and Beliefs in Your Organization. Gower Publishing.