ATTITUDE SCALES

Psychological instruments designed to measure personal attitudes on a variety of topics and issues.Typically, attitude scales contain a set of statements which represent different shades of opinion on a single issue. These statements range from the strongly positive to the strongly negative, and each of them is assigned a number, or “scale value,” which expresses its position along this continuum. By noting his agreement or disagreement with each statement, the subject reveals the nature and relative strength of his attitudes on the subject in question.The Thurstone Scales measure attitudes on about thirty subjects, including capital punishment, censorship, communism, Negroes, patriotism, Chinese, and the church. In constructing these scales, large numbers of statements were gathered from different groups of people and also from current literature. When it appeared that all grades of opinion were represented, the list was edited and reduced to about a hundred short statements. Next, about three hundred judges were asked to sort these statements into eleven categories, within which they were to represent “equal- appearing intervals” from most to least favorable. The scale values for each statement were then computed from the percentage of judges who placed each statement in the different categories. After this, the authors of the test selected statements whose scale values were equally spaced along the continuum. Ambiguous and irrelevant statements were then eliminated and a final group compiled.The selected statements were usually divided into two parallel or equivalent forms, each containing about twenty items arranged in random order. The following are some samples from the Thurstone Scale on the subject of the church, with their scale values in parentheses: “I find the services of the church both restful and inspiring” (2.3) ... “I think the teaching of the church is altogether too superficial to have much social significance” (8.3) ... “I believe in religion but I seldom go to church” (5.4).The subject who takes a Thurstone type of scale checks off all statements with which he agrees, and his score consists of their median scale value. The parallel forms of the test are usually used to determine attitudes before and after certain experiences, such as viewing a motion picture related to the topic.The construction of this test was, of course, dependent on the attitudes of the judges who classified the statements. Thurstone maintained that this did not appreciably affect the scale values. However, he eliminated the records of judges who placed too many statements in a single pile, since he believed this indicated careless sorting, but in so doing he disregarded some of the more extreme views. Also, it must be recognized that attitudes on such subjects as Negroes and war shift materially with the times, and this would tend to alter the scale values originally assigned by the judges.In spite of these limitations the Thur- stone test has considerable value in making comparisons between groups and in determining shifts of opinion due to propaganda or changes in the individual’s life situation, such as a shift from employment to unemployment. Special scales of this type have also been constructed for measuring the attitudes of employees toward their company.Another method of constructing attitude scales has been developed by Likert. In his procedure the items ar« not classified by a group of judges but are selected on the basis of responses made by subjects to whom they are administered. This type of instrument is not limited to simple agreement or disagreement, for the responses are graded Strongly Agree, Agree, Undecided, Disagree, and Strongly Disagree. Each response is given an item credit from 1 to 5 according to strength of agreement or disagreement. The total score consists of the sum of these credits, and the author provides empirically established forms against which any given score can be compared. An example of a scale of the Likert type is the Minnesota Personality Scale (for men), which presents such items as “On the whole lawyers are honest” and “Education only makes a person discontented.” The Minnesota Teacher Attitude Survey also uses this technique. It consists of 150 items designed to assess pupil-teacher relations, chosen from over 700 statements administered to 100 teachers nominated by theirprincipals as superior, and 100 as inferior in their relationships with pupils. The final items were validated against a criterion based upon ratings by the principal, pupils, and a visiting expert. A sample item is “A teacher should never acknowledge his ignorance of a topic in the presence of his pupils.” See MORALE (INDUSTRIAL), SOCIAL DISTANCE, SOCIOMETRY.ATTITUDES TOWARD MENTAL ILLNESS. Attitudes of the public toward mental illness are extremely important since they may spell the difference between accepting and refusing treatment, and between accepting and rejecting individuals who suffer from mental disorders. The success of new facilities such as halfway houses, day hospitals, and community mental health centers is also dependent to a large extent on public attitudes.Many people are still influenced by misconceptions that have come down through the ages via legend and literature, hearsay and humor. Even though some of the blatant superstitions have been discarded—for example, that the mentally ill are possessed of the demon, or that sin produces insanity—a large number of people still feel that mental patients have been foredoomed by heredity and are basically incurable. And a great many still associate mental disorders with behavior that is repellent, terrifying, and even disgraceful. As Coleman (1964) has pointed out: “There is a popular notion that inmates of mental hospitals are a weird lot who spend their time cutting out paper dolls, posing as Napoleon, or ranting and raving. The majority of patients are well aware of what is going on around them and can discuss their condition in much the same way that we might tell our doctor about severe indigestion. Only a minority of patients present a picture of severely disturbed or deviant behavior.”in spite of lingering misconceptions,scientific surveys carried out between 1948 and 1962 indicate that public opinion on mental illness is gradually becoming more enlightened. The most significant findings in the surveys in the earlier part of this period, between 1948 and 1954, are these: (1) the great majority of people viewed mental illness as a sickness, and over half felt that treatment would be at least moderately effective; (2) most people would seek help from a clergyman, general practitioner, or friend, and go to a psychiatrist only as a last resort; (3) younger respondents and those on higher educational and occupational levels were more optimistic about treatment, more scientifically oriented, and better informed than older and less educated people; (4) most people recognized the need for more doctors and facilities, but had little understanding of treatment methods, or mistrusted them; (5) there was little understanding of the origins of mental illness—the causes most frequently cited were poor living conditions, alcohol, money troubles, excessive brainwork, and unwillingness to face everyday problems; (6) when presented with case descriptions of actual mental illnesses, most people failed to recognize the seriousness of the disorders and recommended such measures as kindness, calming the patient by talking to him, or increased social contacts; (7) there was a widespread tendency to picture the mentally ill as irrational, queer, and unpredictable.Two studies reported in 1960 indicate that progress is being made on many of these points (Halpert, 1963). A survey conducted in a relatively low socioeconomic neighborhood in Baltimore showed that a far higher percentage of people recognized serious disorders from case descriptions than a decade before, and these respondents were also more optimistic about chances of recovery. Only 15 per cent showed attitudes of rejection toward the mentally ill and the great majority showed positive attitudes—for example, 81 per cent were willing to work side by side with a recovered person. Similar results were obtained in a study conducted among civic leaders in a lower- middle-class district of New York City. This survey indicated that the educational leaders were best informed, then politico-legal leaders, religious leaders, and economic leaders, in that order.In spite of this evidence of progress, the Joint Commission on Mental Illness and Health concluded in its 1962 report that a forceful educational program conducted on a national scale is urgently needed. Its objective would be to help the general public recognize mental illness, to convince them that treatment is both safe and effective, and to get them to adopt a more sympathetic attitude toward the mentally ill. The report states: “The National Mental Health Program should avoid the risk of false promise of ‘public education for better mental health’ and focus on the more modest goal of disseminating such information about mental illness as the public needs and wants in order to recognize psychological forms of sickness and to arrive at an informed opinion on its responsibility toward the mentally ill.” See JOINT COMMISSION ON MENTAL ILLNESS AND HEALTH.

Cite this page: N., Pam M.S., "ATTITUDE SCALES," in PsychologyDictionary.org, November 28, 2018, https://psychologydictionary.org/attitude-scales/ (accessed June 14, 2021).
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