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Semantic Differential Rating Scale

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Semantic Differential Rating Scale

Suppose you are creating a questionnaire to conduct an investigation. How does one decide which response format to use? Many questionnaires use rating scales such as the Likert scale, where one has to indicate how much they agree with a statement (e.g., ‘I make new friends easily’) on a scale of 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree).

Semantic differential scales are also a type of rating scale. So let us examine what makes semantic differential scales different from other scales and when they are best used.

Semantic Differential Rating Scale, Questionnaires, StudySmarterRating scales are frequently used to measure attitudes in questionnaires, flaticon.com

Meaning of Semantic differential scale

What do we mean by a semantic differential scale?

A semantic differential scale is a type of rating scale used in surveys or questionnaires. Semantic differential scales do not measure attitudes directly like Likert scales but indirectly by asking you to rate the importance of a concept (such as a product or event) on a continuum. It is not a continuum that measures the frequency of your behaviour or agreement but a continuum that allows you to indicate how your feelings lie between opposing adjectives.

Semantic differential scales are based on connotative meanings; they measure what feelings you associate with a concept.

For example, the word school refers to a building or institution, but depending on your experiences and attitudes, the connotations it may invoke can be feelings of comfort, frustration, support, or isolation.

Semantic Differential Rating Scale, Connotative meanings reflect our attitudes, StudySmarterConnotative meanings reflect our attitudes, flaticon.com

Semantic differential scale examples

The inventor of the semantic differential scale, Charles Egerton Osgood, distinguished three dimensions of attitudes:

1. Evaluation

2. Potency

3. Activity

Evaluation

Evaluation determines a person’s attitude, usually noting whether they view the subject positively or negatively. In this example, we have shown how the semantic differential scale evaluates social media. There are five response options between opposite adjectives (positive-negative).

Semantic Differential Rating Scale, Example, StudySmarterExample of a semantic differential scale, Alicja Blaszkiewicz, StudySmarter Originals

Measuring potency

The potency indicates how strong the issue we are dealing with is for that person. The highest and lowest points on our scale indicate potency in terms of excitable to calm.

Semantic Differential Rating Scale, Example, StudySmarterExample of a semantic differential scale, Alicja Blaszkiewicz - StudySmarter

Measuring activity

Activity indicates how ‘active’ the subject is. In this example, the extreme ends of the scale refer to a certain level of activity.

Semantic Differential Rating Scale, Example, StudySmarterExample of a semantic differential scale, Alicja Blaszkiewicz - StudySmarter

The uses of semantic differential scales

Semantic difference scales can assess people’s attitudes towards a product.

For example, a new app that helps students learn. Researchers can measure how users evaluate the app (e.g., ‘Useful’–‘Useless’) and rate its potency (‘What impact did the app have on your revision?’, ‘Strong–Weak’).

Semantic differential scales can assess customer satisfaction.

For example, you can ask customers about their feelings about customer service (e.g., ‘How was the staff?’, ‘Helpful–Unhelpful) or the accuracy of the product they purchased (e.g., ‘Accurate–Inaccurate’).

They can also rate your personality traits.

For example, extraversion could be rated based on responses to the statement’ Spending time with large groups of people is:’ on a scale from ‘Exhausting’ to ‘Energising’.

Semantic differential scale advantages

  • The semantic differential scale is easy to administer and understandable to respondents.

  • Since there are several options between the semantic extremes, respondents can give answers that accurately reflect their feelings and attitudes.

  • Responses are intuitive and based on participants’ subjective feelings but still result in quantitative data that can then be analysed and summarised to understand people’s attitudes.

  • Semantic differential scales are generally considered valid and reliable.

Semantic differential scale disadvantages

  • Designing appropriate semantic differential scales can be challenging because it is tedious to decide which adjectives are most appropriate for assessing the concept and which concepts are important to the study.
  • The researcher must also decide how many options to include between the two opposing adjectives. Too many options can reduce accuracy, but too few options can reduce the sensitivity of the measurement.
  • Another problem with semantic differential scales is that participants sometimes find it difficult to rank their views on the continuum and tend to tick only the extreme values.
  • Semantic differential scales measure subjective attitudes; ticking the same point on a continuum between adjectives may mean different things to different people.
  • Social desirability bias may influence participants’ responses when measuring socially sensitive concepts such as undesirable behaviour (cheating or stealing) or undesirable views (prejudice). Social desirability refers to the tendency to respond according to what is desirable rather than with our actual attitudes.

Semantic Differential Rating Scale - Key takeaways

  • The semantic differential scale is a rating scale used in questionnaires to indirectly assess respondents’ attitudes by examining their associations with concepts.
  • Semantic differential scales require you to rate a concept on a scale between two opposite adjectives.
  • The creator of the semantic differential scale, Charles Egerton Osgood, distinguished three dimensions of attitudes: evaluation, potency, activity.
  • Semantic differential scales are considered valid and reliable, they are easy to understand, and they accurately reflect the subjective feelings of respondents.
  • Semantic differential scales provide quantitative data that can be subsequently analysed.
  • Good design of semantic differential scales can be challenging.
  • Researchers must decide which concepts to study, which adjectives to use, and how many response options are appropriate.
  • Semantic differential scales can be susceptible to response biases, such as extreme responding or social desirability.

Frequently Asked Questions about Semantic Differential Rating Scale

Semantic differential scale is a rating scale used in questionnaires to assess respondents’ attitudes indirectly, through investigating their connotations with the concepts.

Semantic differential scales are generally considered to be valid and reliable. They are easy to understand for respondents, reflect their feelings accurately and result in quantitative data that can be then analysed.

Good design of semantic differential scales can be challenging. Researchers have to decide which concepts to investigate, which adjectives to use, and how many response options are appropriate. Moreover, semantic differential scales can be prone to response bias like extreme responding or social desirability bias.

Semantic differential scales require you to rate a concept on a scale between two opposite adjectives. For example, rate your feelings about social media between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ or ‘harmful’, and ‘beneficial’.

Likert scales and semantic differential scales both can be used to measure attitudes. However, Likert scales measure attitudes directly by measuring your degree of agreement with a statement, while semantic differential scales measure attitudes indirectly by assessing the connotations of a concept.

Final Semantic Differential Rating Scale Quiz

Question

What are semantic differential scales used for?

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Answer

Semantic differential scales measure participants’ attitudes in questionnaires and surveys.

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Question

How do semantic differential scales measure attitudes?

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Answer

Semantic differential scales measure attitudes indirectly by measuring how you feel about the concept on a continuum between two opposite adjectives (e.g. strong–weak, good–bad).

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Question

What is a connotative meaning?

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Answer

Connotative meaning refers to feelings and ideas you associate with a concept.

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Question

Give an example of a connotative versus literal meaning.

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Answer

The word school refers to a building or institution, but depending on your experiences and attitudes, the connotations it may invoke can be feelings of comfort, frustration, support, or isolation.

Show question

Question

How do Likert scales measure attitudes?

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Answer

Likert scales measure attitudes directly by asking a person to indicate the degree of agreement with a particular statement.

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Question

Who created the semantic differential scale?

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Answer

Charles Egerton Osgood 

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Question

What are the three dimensions of attitudes Osgood identified?

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Answer

1. Evaluation

2. Potency

3. Activity

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Question

What dimension of attitudes do opposite adjectives ‘good–bad’ represent?

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Answer

Evaluation

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What dimension of attitudes do opposite adjectives ‘strong–weak’ represent?

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Answer

Potency

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Question

Is a scale that measures respondents’ attitudes about concepts on a continuum from ‘Like’ to ‘Hate’ a semantic differential scale?

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Answer

No, semantic differential scales measure responses on a continuum between two opposite adjectives, not nouns.

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Question

List potential uses of the semantic differential scale.

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Answer

- Measuring attitudes towards a product

- Measuring customer satisfaction

- Measuring personality

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Question

What dimension of attitudes do the two opposite adjectives active-passive represent?

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Answer

Activity

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Question

Outline advantages of semantic differential scales.

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Answer

Semantic differential scales are generally considered to be valid and reliable. They are easy to understand for respondents, reflect their feelings accurately and result in quantitative data that can be then analysed.

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Question

Outline challenges of designing semantic differential scales.

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Answer

Researchers have to decide which concepts to investigate, which adjectives to use, and how many response options are appropriate.   

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Question

What is an extreme response bias?

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Answer

Extreme response bias refers to a situation when respondents display the tendency to only mark extreme values. 

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Question

What is social desirability bias?

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Answer

Social desirability bias refers to the tendency to respond according to what is desirable instead of our actual attitudes.

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