How to use a Thurstone scale in your survey

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It’s always difficult to quantify something as nuanced as attitude in your survey, but, to compare opinions and predict outcomes, it needs to be done. Luckily, those looking for a formal method can always turn to the tried-and-true Thurstone scale.

The Thurstone scale measures a respondent’s attitude by using a series of “agree-disagree” statements of various weights. These statements help determine not only how a respondent feels, but how strongly they feel that way. By measuring attitude with the Thurstone scale, you can gauge the sentiment or opinion of respondents with greater accuracy.

Thurstone scale overview

The Thurstone scale was the first formal method of measuring attitude both in psychology and sociology.

Its origins go back to the early 20th century, where psychologist Louis Leon Thurstone began measuring religious attitudes by asking respondents to agree or disagree with a series of related statements. He understood that attitude was cumulative and that he could, therefore, calculate it as the sum total of each statement the respondent agreed with.

Examples of the Thurstone scale

A Thurstone scale survey is a series of related, dichotomous statements. There are many examples of dichotomous statements in the Question Bank; here’s a series of questions to help you understand the concept more concretely:

I am inspired to meet my goals at work.

  • Agree
  • Disagree

I feel completely involved in my work.

  • Agree
  • Disagree

I am often so involved in my work that the day goes by quickly.

  • Agree
  • Disagree

How do you use the Thurstone scale?

Use the Thurstone scale to measure and compare your respondents’ attitudes on a particular issue. You can apply the Thurstone scale to a wide range of surveys, including:

  • Those that measure opinions. The Thurstone scale produces quantifiable measures of the strength of your respondents’ opinions.
  • Those that gauge sentiment, including customer satisfaction and employee engagement. For customers, the scale can help you predict things like repeat purchases; for employees, it can be future turnover.

Note: Generally, we advise against using agree/disagree questions like those used in the Thurstone scale.

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How do you create a Thurstone scale?

To create a Thurstone scale, just follow these 4 simple steps:

1. Identify a research question related to attitude. Narrow the focus to a single, unidirectional issue.

2. Generate a series of agree-disagree statements about the subject that ask support the issue to varying degrees. The more statements you come up with, the more useful your data will be. When putting the questions into your SurveyMonkey survey, use the multiple choice single answer question type and check off “Score this question (enable quiz mode)”.

3. Assign each statement a score of 1 to 11 based on how strong you believe the statement is. A higher score indicates a more supportive position, while a lower score indicates a more neutral position. You can score the questions yourself, but the risk of bias is lower if you get consensus from a study group.

4. If you’re working in a study group, have each member score how strong they believe the statements are. Find the median score given to each question and then order your questions in ascending order, with the questions with the lowest medians at the top.

How do you interpret the results?

Simply assign each “agree” answer a score of 1 to 11—depending on the score above—and each “no” or “disagree” answer a score of 0. The final score of each graded quiz represents the respondent’s strength of opinion, where a higher score indicates a more supportive opinion.

Because the Thurstone scale represents attitude with a number, you can easily evaluate and compare attitudes across individuals or groups (by their average scores) in SurveyMonkey Analyze.

There are statistical limitations to the Thurstone scale. Because the relative weight of each statement is based on the assumptions of an individual or group of individuals, the mathematical differences between statements aren’t always accurate. Nevertheless, the Thurstone scale is an excellent way to evaluate and compare attitudes with a measure of objectivity.