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A Likert scale (pronunciation in the field of Psychology varies between /lɪkɜrt/ 'lick-urt' and /lаɪkɜrt/ 'lie-kurt', although the man for whom the scale is named used the former) is a psychometric response scale often used in questionnaires, and is the most widely used scale in survey research. When responding to a Likert questionnaire item, respondents specify their level of agreement to a statement. The scale is named after Rensis Likert, who published a report describing its use.
Sample question presented using a five-point Likert item
An important distinction must be made between a Likert Scale and a Likert item. The Likert Scale is the sum of responses on several Likert items. Because Likert items are often accompanied by a visual analog scale (e.g., a horizontal line, on which a subject indicates his or her response by circling or checking tick-marks), the items are sometimes called scales themselves. This is the source of much confusion; it is better, therefore, to reserve the word 'Likert scale' to apply to the summated scale, and 'Likert item' to refer to an individual item.
A Likert item is simply a statement which the respondent is asked to evaluate according to any kind of subjective or objective criteria; generally the level of agreement or disagreement is measured. Often five ordered response levels are used, although many psychometricians advocate using seven or nine levels; a recent empirical study found that data from 5-level, 7-level and 10-level items showed very similar characteristics in terms of mean, variance, skewness and kurtosis after a simple transformation was applied.
The format of a typical five-level Likert item is:
- Strongly disagree
- Neither agree nor disagree
- Strongly agree
Likert scaling is a bipolar scaling method, measuring either positive or negative response to a statement. Sometimes a four-point scale is used; this is a forced choice method since the middle option of "Neither agree nor disagree" is not available.
Likert scales may be subject to distortion from several causes. Respondents may avoid using extreme response categories (central tendency bias); agree with statements as presented (acquiescence bias); or try to portray themselves or their organization in a more favorable light (social desirability bias). Designing a scale with balanced keying (an equal number of positive and negative statements) can obviate the problem of acquiescence bias, since acquiescence on positively keyed items will balance acquiescence on negatively keyed items, but central tendency and social desirability are somewhat more problematic.
Scoring and analysis
After the questionnaire is completed, each item may be analyzed separately or in some cases item responses may be summed to create a score for a group of items. Hence, Likert scales are often called summative scales.
Whether individual Likert items can be considered as interval-level data, or whether they should be considered merely ordered-categorical data is the subject of disagreement. Many regard such items only as ordinal data, because, especially when using only five levels, one cannot assume that respondents perceive all pairs of adjacent levels as equidistant. On the other hand, often (as in the example above) the wording of response levels clearly implies a symmetry of response levels about a middle category; at the very least, such an item would fall between ordinal- and interval-level measurement; to treat it as merely ordinal would lose information. Further, if the item is accompanied by a visual analog scale, where equal spacing of response levels is clearly indicated, the argument for treating it as interval-level data is even stronger.
When treated as ordinal data, Likert responses can be collated into bar charts, central tendency summarised by the median or the mode (but not the mean), dispersion summarised by the range across quartiles (but not the standard deviation), or analyzed using non-parametric tests, e.g. Chi-square test, Mann-Whitney test, Wilcoxon signed-rank test, or Kruskal-Wallis test.
Responses to several Likert questions may be summed, providing that all questions use the same Likert scale and that the scale is a defendable approximation to an interval scale, in which case they may be treated as interval data measuring a latent variable. If the summed responses fulfils these assumptions, parametric statistical tests such as the analysis of variance can be applied. These can be applied only when the components are more than 5.
Data from Likert scales are sometimes reduced to the nominal level by combining all agree and disagree responses into two categories of "accept" and "reject". The Chi-Square, Cochran Q, or McNemar-Test are common statistical procedures used after this transformation.
Consensus based assessment (CBA) can be used to create an objective standard for Likert scales in domains where no generally accepted standard or objective standard exists. Consensus based assessment (CBA) can be used to refine or even validate generally accepted standards.
Level of measurement
The five response categories are often believed to represent an Interval level of measurement. But this can only be the case if the intervals between the scale points correspond to empirical observations in a metric sense. In fact, there may also appear phenomena which even question the ordinal scale level. For example, in a set of items A,B,C rated with a Likert scale circular relations like A>B, B>C and C>A can appear. This violates the axiom of transitivity for the ordinal scale.
Likert scale data can, in principle, be used as a basis for obtaining interval level estimates on a continuum by applying the polytomous Rasch model, when data can be obtained that fit this model. In addition, the polytomous Rasch model permits testing of the hypothesis that the statements reflect increasing levels of an attitude or trait, as intended. For example, application of the model often indicates that the neutral category does not represent a level of attitude or trait between the disagree and agree categories.
Again, not every set of Likert scaled items can be used for Rasch measurement. The data has to thoroughly be checked to fulfill the strict formal axioms of the model.
Rensis Likert, the developer of the scale pronounced his name 'lick-urt' with a short "i" sound. It has been claimed that Likert's name "is among the most mispronounced in [the] field." Although many people use the long "i" variant ('lie-kurt'), those who attempt to stay true to Dr. Likert's pronunciation use the short "i" pronunciation.
- Likert, Rensis (1932), "A Technique for the Measurement of Attitudes", Archives of Psychology 140: pp. 1-55
- Dawes, John (2008), "Do Data Characteristics Change According to the number of scale points used? An experiment using 5-point, 7-point and 10-point scales," International Journal of Market Research, 50 (1), 61-77.
- So You Want to Use a Likert Scale? from the Learning Technology Dissemination Initiative
- Babbie, Earl R. (2005). The Basics of Social Research, p. 174, Thomson Wadsworth.
- Meyers, Lawrence S.; Anthony Guarino, Glenn Gamst (2005). Applied Multivariate Research: Design and Interpretation, p. 20, Sage Publications Inc.
- Latham, Gary P. (2006). Work Motivation: History, Theory, Research, And Practice, p. 15, Sage Publications Inc.
- Analog scale
- Attitude measurement
- Attitude measures
- Consensus based assessment (CBA)
- Guttman scale
- Phrase completion scales
- Thurstone scale
- Mokken scale
- Bogardus Social Distance Scale
- Discan scale
- Diamond of opposites
- Rating scale
- Rating sites
- Reverse coding
- Self report
- Semantic differential
- Voting system
- Trochim, William M. The Research Methods Knowledge Base, 2nd Edition. Internet WWW page, at URL: http://www.socialresearchmethods.net/kb/scallik.php (version current as of October 20, 2006).
- Likert Scales: Dispelling the Confusion - John Uebersax
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