Semantic differential scale

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1 Introduction

A semantic differential scale is a list of opposite adjectives. It is a method invented by C.E. Osgood (1957) in order to measure the connotative meaning of cultural objects.

Semantic differential scales are used in a variety of social science research but it also is used in marketing and practical, user experience research and therapy. Sometimes semantic differentials are also known as polarities.

See also: Repertory grid technique (a useful technique for eliciting polarities that do exist in peoples mind) and Usability and user experience surveys (another example of survey research).

2 Using semantic differentials for looking at web site designs

3 Analysis

The average score for each word defines a sort of "correlation" between the word and the object being tested.

In simple market analysis, the average score for the whole scale defines the overall quality of the object being tested. Of course, that only works if the scale's items represent negative/positive). In this sense it is used like a Likert scale.

In Osgood's original research, factor analysis showed the emergence of three underlying components that have been named: Evaluation, potency and activity (EPA). “The Evaluation dimension is tapped by the “good, nice” versus “bad, awful” scale just mentioned. The Potency dimension corresponds to a scale that contrasts “powerful, big” with “powerless, little.” A scale for assessing the Activity dimension contrasts “fast, noisy, active” with “slow, quiet, inactive.” Pan-cultural multivariate analyses have demonstrated that these EPA dimensions are clearly recognizable in multiple cultures and a variety of languages.” (Heise, 2001).

4 Examples

4.1 Electronic Marketing Quality (EMQ)

Verhagen and Meents (2007:22) identify the following dimensions:

  • Layout
  • Ease of Use
  • Contacting the intermediary
  • Institutional control
  • Community
  • Contacting sellers
  • Seller information
  • Product information
  • Pricing mechanisms
  • Assortment
  • Settlement
  • Meeting sellers

4.2 Onscreen typefaces

Shaikh (2009) used the following differentials with Osgoods classic potency, evaluative and activity dimensions:

  • Potency reflects typefaces that are seen as having strength, power, or force.
  • Evaluative reflects typefaces that are viewed as having value, worth, and importance.
  • Activity reflects typefaces that are considered to be full of energy, movement, and action.

The items were presented in this order (factor dimension in parenthesis)

  • Passive - Active (activity)
  • Warm -- Cool
  • Strong -- Weak
  • Bad -- Good (evaluative)
  • Loud -- Quiet (activity)
  • Old -- Young
  • Cheap -- Expensive (evaluative)
  • Beautiful -- Ugly (evaluative)
  • Happy -- Sad
  • Delicate -- Rugged (potency)
  • Calm -- Excited (activity)
  • Feminine -- Masculine (potency)
  • Hard -- Soft (potency)
  • Fast -- Slow (activity)
  • Relaxed -- Stiff (potency)

4.3 Attitude scale for a web site

(S. Kim MacGregor and Yiping Lou)

  • boring-interesting
  • meaningless-meaningful
  • important-unimportant,
  • informative-uninformative
  • disorganized-organized
  • easy-difficult

4.4 Websites

From UPA's web maintenance and design, retrieved April 11, 2011.

The XXX association whose web site looks like this is:

Unfriendly	__1	__2	__3	__4	__5	__6	__7	Friendly
Amateurish	__1	__2	__3	__4	__5	__6	__7	Professional
Ineffective	__1	__2	__3	__4	__5	__6	__7	Effective
Dull		__1	__2	__3	__4	__5	__6	__7	Interesting
Outdated	__1	__2	__3	__4	__5	__6	__7	Up-to-date
Serious	        __1	__2	__3	__4	__5	__6	__7	Fun
Weak		__1	__2	__3	__4	__5	__6	__7	Strong


This visual design is:
Cluttered	__1	__2	__3	__4	__5	__6	__7	Simple
Unbalanced	__1	__2	__3	__4	__5	__6	__7	Balanced
Unpleasant	__1	__2	__3	__4	__5	__6	__7	Pleasant
Delicate	__1	__2	__3	__4	__5	__6	__7	Bold
Confusing	__1	__2	__3	__4	__5	__6	__7	Clear

4.5 Personalities of products

Jordan (2002) found in Simon Lessing's User Experience Design at Sony Ericsson,

  • Kind -- Unkind
  • Honest -- Dishonest
  • Serious-minded -- Light-hearted
  • Bright -- Dim
  • Stable -- Unstable
  • Narcissistic -- Humble
  • Flexible - Inflexible
  • Authoritarian -- Liberal
  • Value-driven - Non-value driven
  • Extrovert -- Introvert
  • Naive -- Cynical
  • Excessive -- Moderate
  • Conformist -- Rebel
  • Energetic -- Unenergetic
  • Violent - Gentle
  • Complex -- Simple
  • Pessimistic -- Optimistic

5 Links

6 Bibliography

  • Sangwoo Bahn, Cheol Lee, Joo Hwan Lee, and Myung Hwan Yun. 2007. A statistical model of relationship between affective responses and product design attributes for capturing user needs. In Proceedings of the 2nd international conference on Usability and internationalization (UI-HCII'07), Nuray Aykin (Ed.). Springer-Verlag, Berlin, Heidelberg, 305-313.
  • Heise, David R. (2010). Surveying Cultures: Discovering Shared Conceptions and Sentiments. Hoboken NJ: Wiley. ISBN 9780470479070
  • Himmelfarb, S. (1993). The measurement of attitudes. In A.H. Eagly & S. Chaiken (Eds.), Psychology of Attitudes, 23-88. Thomson/Wadsworth.
  • Jordan, P.W. (2002). ”The Personalities of Products.”, in: William S. Green and Patrick W. Jordan (eds.), Pleasure With Products: Beyond Usability. Taylor & Francis, London, England.
  • Lessing, Simon (2002) User Experience Design at Sony Ericsson, Introducing the Virtual Pet, B.A. Thesis, Lund University. PDF
  • Osgood, Charles .E.; G. Suci and P. Tannenbaum (1957). The Measurement of Meaning, Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press.
  • Shaikh, A. Dawn (2009), Know Your Typefaces! Semantic Differential Presentation of 40 Onscreen Typefaces, Usability News, October 2009, Vol. 11 Issue 2, HTML/PDF
  • Verhagen, Tibert & Meents, Selmar, 2007. "A Framework for Developing Semantic Differentials in IS research: Assessing the Meaning of Electronic Marketplace Quality (EMQ)," Serie Research Memoranda 0016, VU University Amsterdam, Faculty of Economics, Business Administration and Econometrics. PDF Reprint. (Good paper and good intro for people with a social science background)
  • Zhikun Ding & Fungfai Ng, (2008). "A new way of developing semantic differential scales with personal construct theory," Construction Management & Economics, Taylor and Francis Journals, vol. 26(11), pages 1213-1226.