Self Report Scales

Self-reports offer great insight into a participant's life and the reasoning behind their decisions. Many areas of research elect to use self-reports to learn about the world and behaviours, and in the case of stress, scales have been developed to analyse what areas of life are causing the most issues. Two we are mainly concerned with are the Social-Readjustment Rating Scale (SRRS) by Holmes and Rahe (1967) and the Hassles and Uplifts Scale by Kanner et al. (1981). 

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Table of contents
    • We will begin by looking at the definition and the types of self-report measures available.
    • Then, we will explore self-report examples such as self-report stress scales.
    • To finish off, we will look at the evaluation of self-report scales.

    Self-Report Measures: Definition

    Self-report measures are questions or scales that involve participants reporting their thoughts, beliefs, behaviours, attitudes, intentions, etc.

    Types of Self-Report Measures

    Self-reports are a source of direct information from the participants about their thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and behaviours (as opposed to observations). It is a non-experimental design, can be used to measure the IV or DV, and can't identify causation; it just describes the relationship between two variables. Two types of self-report measures are used in psychology:

    1. Interviews - These are face-to-face and can be structured, semi-structured or unstructured.
    2. Questionnaires - These are on paper or online, and there are different types, e.g. multiple choice, ranked scale, Likert scale and semantic differential scale.

    Self-Report Scales self-report stress scale measures StudySmarterFigure 1. Questionnaires are used to measure sources of stress.

    Self-Report Examples

    There are many different examples of self-report measures being used in other areas of psychology, e.g. Beck's Depression Inventory (BDI) is a scale used to diagnose depression, and Freud (1909) used unstructured interviews in the case of Little Hans. Here, however, we will focus on the self-report measures used in measuring stress.

    Self-Report Stress Scale

    Psychologists use two main self-report scales for measuring stress: the Social Readjustment Rating Scale (SRRS) and the Hassles and Uplifts Scale.

    Social Readjustment Rating Scale (SRRS)

    This scale was developed by Holmes and Rahe (1967). They worked in hospitals and noticed that patients who had problems with stress and health (e.g. heart disease) would often have experienced certain life events. They analysed the data and concluded that the bigger the life change, the greater the stress and the more serious the illness it caused.

    They examined the hospital records of 5000 patients and identified 43 life events that seemed to occur before their stress and health deterioration. Each life event corresponds to a rank and number based on how stressful they are. These are called Life Change Units (LCUs).

    A higher LCU means it is more stressful and has a larger impact. These units were then ranked, and this is what the self-report scale, known as the SRRS, is.

    The way the SRRS scale is filled out is that participants are asked which life events from the list they have experienced in the last 12 months, and then they add up the LCUs overall and end up with a total LCU score.

    Holmes and Rahe found a positive correlation between LCU score and illness, i.e. the higher the LCU score, the greater the chance of getting ill. They stated that a higher LCU score causes higher stress levels, which leads to illnesses.

    Self-Report Scales self-report stress scale measures StudySmarterFigure 2. Many episodes of chronic stress responses can cause serious physical and psychological illnesses.

    Hassles and Uplifts Scale

    Kanner et al. (1981) defined hassles and uplifts by comparing them to the hassles with life events from the SRRS. The hassles scale has 117 items, separated into work, health, family, friends, environment, practical considerations and chance occurrences.

    Daily hassles could include troublesome neighbours, planning meals, too much workload, disliking colleagues, etc.

    Adult participants filled it out over ten months, rating the intensity of the hassles on a 3-point scale. The uplift scale has 135 positive events, and participants had to say how often they occurred over the ten months.

    They also had to complete two scales every month to measure health and well-being called 'The Hopkins Symptoms Checklist, which measures symptoms like anxiety and depression, and 'The Bradburn Morale Scale', which measures positive and negative emotions.

    Kanner et al. (1981) found a positive correlation between daily hassles and stress-related illnesses. The higher the score of daily hassles, the more illnesses were reported, meaning more hassles caused more stress, leading to more illnesses. They found that the daily hassles scale was a better predictor of psychological well-being than the life events scale, suggesting daily stresses people face more often have more of an impact than larger life events.

    Combined Hassles and Uplifts Scale

    DeLongis et al. (1988) developed the combined hassles and uplifts scale, where hassles were given a score based on how stressful they were (hassle) and how beneficial they were in a day (uplift). For instance, the family would be given a hassle and uplift score.

    Imagine your sibling spilt a drink over one of your favourite shirts you had to wear for the day. This would be a hassle. However, that same sibling then paid for your meal and bought you a drink to say sorry. This would be an uplift. Both happened on the same day.

    In Delongis et al. (1988), participants filled out a questionnaire about major life events and the hassles and uplifts scale.

    Like Kanner et al. (1981), they found no relationship between major events and illness but found a correlation between daily hassles and next-day illnesses. Again, they support the idea that daily hassles are more impactful on stress-related illnesses than major events.

    Self-Report Scales self-report stress scalemeasures StudySmarterFigure 3. Daily hassles are a source of stress.

    Evaluation of Self-Report Scales

    Let's consider the strengths and weaknesses of these self-report scales.

    Strengths of Self-Report Measures

    Self-report measures are a valid way of measuring stress since its a personal experience that is different and subjective to each person. Different people get stressed for some reason, and some get more stressed by certain things than others.

    Therefore, the best way to find out about stress is to ask people directly by self-report (interview or questionnaire). This method also gives more insight and truth than others, e.g. observations.

    Both the SRRS and the Hassles and Uplifts scales have a continuous and big influence on research and have been used in many studies. Further adaptations of these scales, e.g. DeLongis et al.'s developed version of the Hassles and Uplifts scale, show their credibility and high regard for them.

    Limitations of Self-Report Measures

    Many of the items on the scales are general categories rather than specific life events. This means different people may interpret it differently.

    Dohrenwend et al. (1990) asked what participants thought each item meant and found that they had a range of different responses, e.g. 'Sprained arm' and 'A life-threatening heart attack' were both responses to what they thought was meant by 'Serious injury or illness.

    Therefore, people who experience the most stress may have the most severe interpretations, which means there is a bias in the results, and thus, the validity of these scales is reduced.

    The SRRS scale doesn't account for individual differences, e.g., some people may find Christmas a stressful time (i.e. having a high LCU) while others don't (i.e. having a low LCU). Therefore, the SRRS scale has low validity because it doesn't accurately measure each individual's stress associated with life events.

    Self-report scales can mix up the causes and effects of stress. The SRRS and Hassles and Uplifts scales have many items that overlap with the symptoms of the illness, i.e. the effects of stress, rather than predicting stress. For example, an item on SRRS for a cause of stress is 'Personal injury or illness.

    So these scales don't predict illness but rather reflect it, so some psychologists argue that self-report methods shouldn't be used and direct observations should be used instead.

    Another criticism is that the Hassles and Uplifts scale is very long and tiring to complete since it has 250 items. Therefore, it is very likely that participants don't have the full focus and thoughtfulness throughout the process that they would have at the beginning. This notion is supported by test-retest correlations, which show that this scale has low reliability.


    Self Report Scales - Key Takeaways

    • Self-reports are a source of direct information from the participants about their thoughts, feelings, beliefs and behaviours (as opposed to observations).
    • Holmes and Rahe (1967) developed the SRRS by looking at hospital records of 5000 patients with stress-related illnesses and gathering information on the life events that preceded their illness.
    • Kanner et al. (1981) developed the Hassles and Uplift scale, which looked at how daily hassles and uplifts affected stress levels and stress-induced illnesses.
    • Strengths of these self-report measures include their validity because self-report scales can gain insight into the participants' thoughts and feelings and are, therefore an accurate and valid measure of stress.
    • Limitations of self-report scales in stress include issues with validity, individual differences and contamination effects.
    Frequently Asked Questions about Self Report Scales

    What are self reports in psychology?

    Self-reports are a source of direct information from the participants about their thoughts, feelings, beliefs and behaviours, (as oppose to observations). There are two types: interviews and questionnaires.

    Is self-report scale a qualitative research method

    Both qualitative and quantitative data can be derived from self-report scales.

    Why would a psychologist use self-report techniques?

    To get direct information about the participant's thoughts, feelings, beliefs and behaviours which can't be done with observations.

    What are examples of self-report?

    Some examples of self-report scales are the two main self-report scales for measuring stress: the Social Readjustment Rating Scale (SSRS) and the Hassles and Uplifts Scale.

    Is self reporting reliable?

    Reliability depends on the type of self-report measure, e.g. unstructured interviews aren't reliable because each interview is different from others and can't be replicated, however structured interviews are reliable because the questions and their order are the same for each participant so can be replicated easily.

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