semantic differential

The semantic differential

The semantic differential is one of the most widely recommended techniques to measure the perception of concepts, opinions and attitudes. Whereas an alternative such as Likert-scaling demands from respondents to indicate the extent to which they disagree or agree with declarative statements, the semantic differential makes use of a set of bipolar scales.

In their simplest form, each of the bipolar scales that make up a semantic differential consists of an antonym pair, which are usually two adjectives (e.g., bad - good; unpleasant - pleasant). In practice, however, bipolar scales in this format may not be sufficiently descriptive. Therefore, researchers usually develop more elaborate bipolar scales by combining the two antonyms with one or more nouns and verbs to formulate word combinations, in which the antonyms still remain the only two words that are opposite in meaning (e.g., bad idea - good idea; unpleasant idea - pleasant idea). The semantic differential in the below, which measures the concept website ease of use with four bipolar scales [1], illustrates this well.

semantic differential, ease of use

The opposites in each bipolar scale are linked in most cases by a continuum of seven or nine points, that respondents mark to show how they see the concept [2]. This form of measurement, in which the direction and the intention of meaning is controlled and allocated with bipolar scales, is what is known as semantic differentiation [3].

Both theory and empiricism support the adoption of the semantic differential as it contains particular advantages over other measurement techniques. Still, to benefit from its potential as accurate measurement technique, researchers in fields such as information systems, marketing, and behavioral sciences should acknowledge that the semantic differential relies heavily upon the adequate use of linguistics in general and of bipolarity in particular. As general scale validation guidelines [4,5], do not address these issues, we decided to synthesize established scale validation and semantics requirements in a framework of suggested action for semantic differential development and usage. The goal of this website is to draw attention to this framework in order to guide researchers in applying the semantic differential more adequately.

References used on this page:
1. Verhagen, T., Feldberg, F., Van den Hooff, B., Meents, S. and Merikivi, J. (2012), Understanding users’ motivations to engage in virtual worlds: A multipurpose model and empirical testing, Computers in Human Behavior 28, 484-495.
2. Devellis, R. F. (2012). Scale development: Theory and applications. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
3. Osgood, C. E., Suci, G. J., & Tannenbaum, P. H. (1957). The measurement of meaning. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press.
4. MacKenzie, S. B., Podsakoff, P. M., & Podsakoff, N. P. (2011). Construct measurement and validation procedures in MIS and behavioral research: Integrating new and existing techniques. MIS Quarterly, 35(2), 293-334.
5. Straub, D. W., Boudreau, M.-C., and Gefen, D. (2004). Validation guidelines for IS positivist research. Communications of the Association for Information Systems, 13(1), 380-427.