semantic differential

Need for bipolarity

The set of bipolar scales form the foundation of the semantic differential technique [1,2]. Therefore, it is of utmost relevance that the researcher assures that these scales are indeed bipolar. Following the academic literature the bipolarity of the semantic differential entails both linguistic bipolarity and psychological bipolarity [3,4,5].

Linguistic bipolarity implies that the scale anchors of each bipolar scale reflect a contrasting relationship from a purely linguistic point of view [6]; that is, the scale anchors function as grammatical antonyms [7]. Psychological bipolarity extends this view by assuming that the selected scale anchors are not only bipolar in isolation, but also in relation to the particular concept to be measured and subject group being used [3,5,8]. To exemplify this notion, we refer to the semantic differential used to measure user satisfaction [9, 10] as displayed in the following figure:

user satisfaction semantic differential

A first inspection of the bipolar scales gives rise to some questions on the general applicability of a scale anchor such as “delighted”, which represents feelings of great pleasure and is a rather emotional term rooted in consumer behavior research [see 11]. Whereas “delighted” may be applicable in a context such as online shopping environments and online gaming applications, it seems less suitable when the concept under study is more utilitarian in nature (e.g., ERP, office applications). Furthermore, whereas “delighted” may be an appropriate term to measure satisfaction among consumers, it may be less applicable for chief information officers. Thus, both the concept being measured and the subject group being used may influence the applicability of the bipolar scales.

As suggested and illustrated in our paper, it is strongly recommend to test for linguistic and psychological bipolarity when using a semantic differential. An established procedure to test for linguistic bipolarity is a pretest with a sample of native speakers [12]. To assure psychological bipolarity, the researcher(s) should make use of an expert panel to test and establish the linguistic matching of each of the polar terms to the concept under study [13,14]

References used on this page:
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7. Yorke, M. (2001). Bipolarity…or not? Some conceptual problems relating to bipolar rating scales. British Educational Research Journal, 27(2), 171-186.
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11. Laros, F. J. M., & Steenkamp, J.-B. E. M. (2005). Emotions in consumer behavior: A hierarchical approach. Journal of Business Research, 58(10), 1437-1445.
12. Bachman, L. F. (1990). Fundamental considerations in language testing. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
13. Heise, D. R. (2010). Surveying cultures: Discovering shared conceptions and sentiments. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.
14. Schriesheim, C. A., & Klich, N. R. (1991). Fiedler’s least preferred coworker (LPC) instrument: An investigation of its true bipolarity. Educational and Psychological Measurement, 51(2), 305-315.