Rating scales and their origins discussion

RATING SCALES AND THEIR ORIGINS Rating scales are widely used in psychology as a means of quantifying subjective psychological variables of many kinds. An example of a simple rating scale might be the 11-point scale used by doctors when they ask patients in the emergency room On a scale from 0 to 10, where 0 is no pain at all, and 10 is the worst pain you have ever felt, how bad is your pain right now? Albeit crude, this is a form of psychological measurement. Psychometricians have developed a rich literature on the qualities and applications of rating scales of this type (Guilford, 1954; Nunnally, 1967; Nunnally & Bernstein, 1994). Historians of psychology used to think that numerical rating scales originated in the brass instruments era of Francis Galton (McReynolds & Ludwig, 1987). However, it



now appears that a crude form of rating scale can be traced to Galen, the second century Greco-Roman physician. Galen believed in the prevailing humor theory of health and disease, in which the harmony or disharmony among four bodily fluids or humors determined ones health. The four humors were yellow bile, black bile, phlegm, and blood. The humorology of the time also featured the dichotomies of hotcold and wetdry as elements of health or illness. With respect to the hot-cold dimension, Galen recognized the need for something more sophisticated than a simple dichotomy: This standard, or neutral value, he suggested

should be the temperature, as reflected in direct senseperception, of a mixture of equal quantities of boiling water and ice (Taylor, 1942). Further, Galen proposed a convention of four degrees of heat and four degrees of cold, on either side of that standard, that could be induced in patients by various drugs. (McReynolds & Ludwig, 1987, p. 281)



Although he did not say so explicitly, Galen was in effect proposing a nine-point rating scale consisting of four points above and four points below a neutral point. Whether the successive increases of heat or cold were equal in the hot cold scalewhat we would now refer to as the underlying scale of measurementwas an issue left to others, including the ninth-century Islamic philosopher, Al-kindi (Taylor, 1942). Al- kindi was an Arab polymath considered by many the father of Islamic philosophy. He questioned whether the successive degrees of heat and cold could be equal but did not propose a means for answering the inquiry. Al-kindi made important contributions in many fields, including astronomy, chemistry, and medicine (www.muslimphilosophy.com/kindi). According to McReynolds and Ludwig (1984), the first person to devise and apply rating scales for psychological variables was Christian Thomasius (16551728). Thomasius was a German jurist and philosopher whose career spanned numerous fields of inquiry. He developed a theory of personality that posited



four major dimensionssensuousness, acquisitiveness, social ambition, and rational love. He employed judges to assess individuals on all four inclinations on a 12-point scale (5, 10, 15, 20, all the way up to 60). In 1692, he published numerical dataincluding reliability dataon five individuals as rated by himself and other judges. This was a landmark accomplishment: This work appears to constitute the first systematic collection and analysis of quantitative empirical data in the entire history of psychology (McReynolds & Ludwig, 1984, p. 282). Ratings scale slowly caught on in the years after their first serious use by Thomasius. Among those applying these new devices were phrenologists, including the renowned practitioner Orson Fowler. Phrenology is described in an earlier section of this chapter. Fowler depicted the application of seven-point rating scales in his Practical Phrenology (1851). The bulges in different areas of the skull were rated as 1, VERY SMALL; 2, SMALL; 3, MODERATE; 4, AVERAGE; 5, FULL; 6,



LARGE; 7, VERY LARGE. From these ratings, the relative strengths of specific moral and intellectual qualities were presumed to be quantified.2 The use of ratings scale may have provided Fowlers practice of phrenology a facade of respectability. Even so, this did not prevent his arrest in 1886 for practicing medicine without a license (New York Times, January 17, 1886). According to the Times article: The phrenologist denies that he practices

medicine and asserts that he has violated no law, that he is simply a phrenologist, and does not give remedies to persons who apply to him to have their craniums examined. There was quite a crowd of patrons in the Professors anteroom at the hotel when the detective served the warrant. Prof. Fowler was held to await action by the Grand Jury, and released on his own recognizance.

Phrenology, which surrounded itself with the trappings of science, including models of the head and brain, authoritative pronouncements,



and, yes, even ratings scales, phrenology which flourished into the early 1900s, eventually faded into disrepute. 2The common idiom You should have your head examined probably alludes to the (now discredited) practice of phrenology (Ammer, 2003).

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