A Likert scale is a close-ended, forced-choice scale used in a questionnaire that provides a series of answers that go from one extreme to another. For example, a scale might have five choices that start at one end with "strongly agree" and end at the other with "strongly disagree," with less extreme choices in the middle three points. Likert scales are widely used in psychology and other social science research.
Key Takeaways: Likert Scales
- A Likert scale enables respondents to choose from a linear set of responses that increase or decrease in intensity or strength. It is a close-ended, forced-choice scale.
- Widely used in psychological and other social science research today, Likert scales enable researchers to collect data that provides nuance and insight into participants' opinions. This data is quantitative and can easily be analyzed statistically.
- Likert items often offer response categories on a 1-to-5 scale, but a range of options is possible, including 1-to-7 and 0-to-4 scales or even-numbered scales that typically range from 1-to-4 or 1-to-6.
Creation of the Likert Scale
The Likert Scale was developed by American psychologist Rensis Likert in 1932. Likert wanted to find a way to systematically measure individual attitudes. His solution was the scale that now bears his name.
Likert scales offer a continuum or series of typically five to seven fixed-choice options. This enables people to self-report the extent to which they agree or disagree with a given proposition. As a result, Likert scales allow for more nuance than a simple binary response, like a yes or no. This is the reason why Likert scales are often used to collect data in psychological research.
Likert Scale Format
You know you're completing a Likert scale if you're asked to give an opinion in response to a statement by choosing from a series of choices that enable you to rate your degree of agreement. Sometimes instead of a statement, the item will be a question. The most important thing to note, however, is that the options from which you can choose your response offer a range of opinions that don't overlap.
Likert scales create a linear set of responses that increase or decrease in intensity or strength. These response categories are open to respondent interpretation. So, for example, one respondent may select “agree” in response to a statement, while another feels the same way but selects “strongly agree" instead. Regardless, respondents and the researchers collecting their data understand that “strongly agree” is considered a more intensely positive option than “agree.”
While it's most common to see Likert scales that include 5 to 7 response options, sometimes a researcher will use more. Nonetheless, it's been observed that when people are presented with a greater number of response options they don't tend to choose the responses at either end of the scale. Perhaps in a large scale the end-point options look too extreme.
A scale with an odd number of response categories has a midpoint that will be considered neutral. If a researcher wants to force a respondent to choose whether they lean one way or another on a question, they can eliminate the neutral option by using a scale with an even number of options.
Here are some examples of Likert items from real psychological questionnaires.
From the Big 5 Personality Trait Short Questionnaire:
I see myself as someone who is full of energy, likes to always be active.
0. Totally disagree
1. Disagree a little
2. Neutral opinion
3. Agree a little
4. Totally Agree
From the Meaning in Life Questionnaire:
I am always looking to find my life's purpose
1. Absolutely untrue
2. Mostly untrue
3. Somewhat untrue
4. Can't say true or false
5. Somewhat true
6. Mostly true
7. Absolutely true
From the BBC Well-Being Scale:
Do you feel you have control of your life?
1. Not at all
2. A little
4. Very Much
Likert scales can be used to ask for a wide range of attitudes besides agreement. In addition to the examples above, Likert items can ask about how frequently an individual does something (endpoints for a frequency item would be “Very frequently” and “Never”), how important an individual believes something is to them (endpoints for an importance item would be “Very Important” and “Not very important”), and how much one likes something (endpoints for a liking item would be “A lot” and “Not at all”).
Advantages and Disadvantages of Likert scales
By including several categories to choose from in the response to each item, Likert scales enable a researcher to collect data that provides nuance and insight into participants' opinions. Also, this data is quantitative so it's fairly easy to analyze statistically.
On the other hand, Likert scales may be impacted by respondents' need to appear socially desirable. Especially if a participant holds an opinion that they know would be deemed socially unacceptable, they may choose a response to an item that will make their opinion seem more appropriate to the rest of the world. For example, an individual is unlikely to agree with items that would cause them to seem prejudiced when completing a questionnaire about attitudes towards minorities, A possible remedy for this issue could be to allow respondents to fill out questionnaires anonymously.
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- Kinderman, Peter, Schwannauer, Matthias, Pontin, Eleanor, and Tai, Sara. "The Development and Validation of a General Measure of Well-Being: The BBC Well-Being Scale." Quality of Life Research, vol. 20, no. 7, 2011, pp. 1035-1042. doi: 10.1007/s11136-010-9841-z
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- Morizot, Julien. "Construct Validity of Adolescents' Self-Reported Big Five Personality Traits: Importance of Conceptual Breadth and Initial validation of a Short Measure." Assessment, vol. 21, no. 5, 2014, pp. 580-606. doi: 10.1177/1073191114524015,
- The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. “Rensis Likert.” Encyclopaedia Britannica, 30 August 2018. //www.britannica.com/biography/Rensis-Likert
- Steger, Michael F., Frazier, Patricia, Oishi, Shigegiro, & Kaler, Matthew. "The Meaning in Life Questionnaire: Assessing the Presence of and Search for Meaning in Life." Journal of Counseling Psychology, vol. 53, no. 1, 2006, pp. 80-93. doi: 10.1037/0022-022.214.171.124