What is the Guttman Scale and How to Use it in Your Surveys

When doing a survey, getting a mere opinion on a particular topic sometimes just won’t cut it. Often you need to go the extra mile and measure the strength of opinions or the degree to which the respondents agree or disagree with a certain statement.

If that’s the case, it’s high time you got introduced to the Guttman scale.

Along with the Likert scale and the Thurstone scale, it’s one of the three most commonly used unidimensional measurement scales in surveys.

While you can read more about the alternative scales on the links above, I’m going to briefly define the Guttman scale, offer some sample scales and questions, and teach you how to create your own survey based on this scale.

What is the Guttman scale?

The Guttman scale, also known as cumulative scale or scalogram analysis, measures the “strength” or a respondent’s opinion. In other words, it determines how much of a positive or negative attitude towards a particular topic they have.

The scale was developed by the 20th-century social scientist and mathematician Louis Guttman, who used it to make predictions about which test questions his students answered correctly based only on their final score.

Even though Guttman initially applied his scale to his work in social science, his method has later found its application in political science, psychology, anthropology, public opinion, marketing, and many other fields.

The Guttman scale is based on a hierarchy of closely related questions that increase in specificity. It consists of a series of dichotomous questions (generally referred to as ‘yes/no’ questions) that are used to determine how strongly someone supports or disapproves of a certain opinion.

Guttman scale

The questions are designed so as to represent an increasingly extreme stance on a certain issue. So if a respondent has answered predominantly with “yes”, chances are high that they support the opinion they’re being surveyed about.

One of the ideas behind the Guttman scale based surveys is that a respondent will get to a certain point of the questionnaire and then simply stop if they don’t agree with the following statements.

For example, if a survey has 5 questions and a respondent answers question 3 and then stops taking the survey, it’s implied that they do not agree with the statements 4 and 5. Keep in mind that this can be a valid point only if you’re using a Guttman scale (because it lists questions from least to most supportive) and not with other types of surveys.

To make sure you understand the basics behind the Guttman scale, I’m going to share a few examples.

Guttman scale examples

As already mentioned, ideally, the Guttman scale should be designed in such a way that if the respondent agrees with the first 3 statements and then disagrees with number 4, it’s highly likely that they would disagree with all the subsequent statements (which are more extreme, supportive, specific, difficult, and so on).

For example, a survey based on the Guttman scale could contain the following set of statements:

  • I like food
  • I like eating out
  • I like going to restaurants
  • I like going to international cuisine restaurants
  • I like going to Italian restaurants
  • I like going to Venice-style Italian restaurants

Guttman scale example 1

Here’s another example for all the snake lovers out there:

  • I’m willing to observe a snake in the zoo from a distance
  • I’m willing to go near a snake
  • I’m willing to touch a snake
  • I’m willing to own a snake
  • I’d love to own a snake

Guttman scale example 2

Since Guttman initially used his scale with students, here’s a scale you can apply to education, where you can measure which mathematical operations children have mastered.

  • Counting
  • Addition
  • Subtraction
  • Multiplication
  • Division

Notice how we’ve ordered them by difficulty, in increasing order.

Questions in a Guttman scale gradually increase in specificity. The intent of the scale is that the person will agree with all statements up to a point and then will stop agreeing.

The scale may be used to determine how extreme a view is, with successive statements showing increasingly extremist positions.

How to create a Guttman scale survey

Creating a survey based on a Guttman scale is easy and includes the following 3 steps:

1. Define the topic of your research

The first thing you need to do is identify a research question related to a particular opinion.

If you’re looking to get inspired, here’s a list of survey topics and ideas you can utilize.

2. Generate a series of related questions

Those can be “yes/no” questions or “agree/disagree” statements. You need to make sure that they all support the same opinion but differ in the degree to which they do so.

Keep in mind that the more statements or questions your Guttman survey contains, the more precise your results will be.

3. Score the questions

In order to create a Guttman scale based survey, you need to assign a score to each individual question/statement.

To do so in LeadQuizzes, click on Create New Content from your Dashboard. Then click on Create From Scratch and select Scoring Logic.

After you’ve done so, you can use the intuitive builder to create and design as many questions/statements as you want. For a Guttman scale survey, I recommend that you create individual text questions for each of the statements and score the answer options.

An alternative could be to create a single question with checkbox answers that would allow respondents to tick all the statements they agree with. This will let them complete the survey faster and allow you to simplify the survey-taking experience, but the only drawback to such an approach is that you can’t assign different scores to answer options.

As you can see from the screenshot above, the builder allows you to add a score to each of the individual answer options:

Guttman scale example 2

The simplest way to handle this is by assigning a score of 1 to each “yes” answer and a score of 0 to each “no” answer. This will allow you to make simple Guttman scale calculations and find out how supportive people are towards a particular topic.

As the final score of each survey shows how strong a respondent’s opinion is, the higher the score, the more supportive the attitude towards a particular topic.

4. Order the questions from least to most supportive

Ideally, you would like to sort your questions from the least supportive to the most supportive. Or from the least specific to the most specific statement.

While you could decide on what’s more supportive on your own, you should consider having a study group do it in order to avoid one of the many types of bias in research.

Why use the Guttman scale (and not other scale models)

  • It’s hierarchically structured. The highly hierarchical nature of the Guttman scale makes it very productive in the surveys where the respondents do not reach the end of the questionnaire or stop taking it after a few questions.

It’s due to the assumption that if they stopped taking the survey, it might be because they didn’t agree with the last statement (and won’t agree with all the subsequent ones).

  • It occupies little space. Literally. If you decide to go with the checkbox answer options, you’ve got yourself a one-page survey.
  • More intuitive. The fact that the statements are ordered by increasing extremeness or specificity makes the Guttman scale more intuitive for the respondents.
  • Gives scored results. As each statement can be assigned a score (based on the level of importance), you can rank the data obtained this way and make room for a more meaningful analysis.

To create your own Guttman scale survey and start getting meaningful data, just log in to your LeadQuizzes account or start a free 14-day trial now!

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