digplanet beta 1: Athena
Share digplanet:


Applied sciences






















Semantic differential
Semantic Differntial 2.png
Fig. 1. Modern Japanese version of the Semantic Differential. The Kanji characters in background stand for "God" and "Wind" respectively, with the compound reading "Kamikaze". (Adapted from Dimensions of Meaning. Visual Statistics Illustrated at VisualStatistics.net.)
MeSH D012659

Semantic differential is a type of a rating scale designed to measure the connotative meaning of objects, events, and concepts. The connotations are used to derive the attitude towards the given object, event or concept.

Osgood's semantic differential was an application of his more general attempt to measure the semantics or meaning of words, particularly adjectives, and their referent concepts. The respondent is asked to choose where his or her position lies, on a scale between two bipolar adjectives (for example: "Adequate-Inadequate", "Good-Evil" or "Valuable-Worthless"). Semantic differentials can be used to measure opinions, attitudes and values on a psychometrically controlled scale.

Theoretical background[edit]

Nominalists and realists[edit]

Theoretical underpinnings of Charles E. Osgood's semantic differential have roots in the medieval controversy between the nominalists and realists.[citation needed] Nominalists asserted that only real things are entities and that abstractions from these entities, called universals, are mere words. The realists held that universals have an independent objective existence either in a realm of their own or in the mind of God. Osgood’s theoretical work also bears affinity to linguistics and general semantics and relates to Korzybski's structural differential.[citation needed]

Use of adjectives[edit]

The development of this instrument provides an interesting insight into the broader area between linguistics and psychology. People have been describing each other since they developed the ability to speak. Most adjectives can also be used as personality descriptors. The occurrence of thousands of adjectives in English is an attestation of the subtleties in descriptions of persons and their behavior available to speakers of English. Roget's Thesaurus is an early attempt to classify most adjectives into categories and was used within this context to reduce the number of adjectives to manageable subsets, suitable for factor analysis.

Evaluation, potency, and activity[edit]

Osgood and his colleagues performed a factor analysis of large collections of semantic differential scales and found three recurring attitudes that people use to evaluate words and phrases: evaluation, potency, and activity. Evaluation loads highest on the adjective pair 'good-bad'. The 'strong-weak' adjective pair defines the potency factor. Adjective pair 'active-passive' defines the activity factor. These three dimensions of affective meaning were found to be cross-cultural universals in a study of dozens of cultures.

This factorial structure makes intuitive sense. When our ancestors encountered a person, the initial perception had to be whether that person represents a danger. Is the person good or bad? Next, is the person strong or weak? Our reactions to a person markedly differ if perceived as good and strong, good and weak, bad and weak, or bad and strong. Subsequently, we might extend our initial classification to include cases of persons who actively threaten us or represent only a potential danger, and so on. The evaluation, potency and activity factors thus encompass a detailed descriptive system of personality. Osgood's semantic differential measures these three factors. It contains sets of adjective pairs such as warm-cold, bright-dark, beautiful-ugly, sweet-bitter, fair-unfair, brave-cowardly, meaningful-meaningless.

The studies of Osgood and his colleagues revealed that the evaluative factor accounted for most of the variance in scalings, and related this to the idea of attitudes.[1]


The semantic differential is today one of the most widely used scales used in the measurement of attitudes. One of the reasons is the versatility of the items. The bipolar adjective pairs can be used for a wide variety of subjects, and as such the scale is nicknamed "the ever ready battery" of the attitude researcher.[2]

Statistical properties[edit]

Five items, or 5 bipolar pairs of adjectives, have been proven to yield reliable findings, which highly correlate with alternative Likert numerical measures of the same attitude [3]

One problem with this scale is that its psychometric properties and level of measurement are disputed.[2] The most general approach is to treat it as an ordinal scale, but it can be argued that the neutral response (i.e. the middle alternative on the scale) serves as an arbitrary zero point, and that the intervals between the scale values can be treated as equal, making it an interval scale.

A detailed presentation on the development of the semantic differential is provided in the monumental book, Cross-Cultural Universals of Affective Meaning.[4] David R. Heise's Surveying Cultures[5] provides a contemporary update with special attention to measurement issues when using computerized graphic rating scales. Verhagen and colleagues introduce a framework for adequate development and usage of the semantic differential. The framework advocates particular attention for collecting the set of relevant bipolar scales, linguistic testing of semantic bipolarity, and establishing semantic differential dimensionality.[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Himmelfarb (1993) p 56
  2. ^ a b Himmelfarb (1993) p 57
  3. ^ Osgood, Suci and Tannebaum (1957)
  4. ^ Osgood, May, and Miron (1975)
  5. ^ Heise (2010)
  6. ^ Verhagen, Van den Hooff, and Meents (2015)


  • Heise, David R. (2010). Surveying Cultures: Discovering Shared Conceptions and Sentiments. Hoboken NJ: Wiley
  • Himmelfarb, S. (1993). The measurement of attitudes. In A.H. Eagly & S. Chaiken (Eds.), Psychology of Attitudes, 23-88. Thomson/Wadsworth
  • Krus, D.J., & Ishigaki, Y. (1992) Kamikaze pilots: The Japanese and the American perspectives. Psychological Reports, 70, 599-602. (Request reprint).
  • Osgood, C. E., May, W. H., and Miron, M. S. (1975) Cross-Cultural Universals of Affective Meaning. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press
  • Osgood, C.E., Suci, G., & Tannenbaum, P. (1957) The measurement of meaning. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press
  • Snider, J. G., and Osgood, C. E. (1969) Semantic Differential Technique: A Sourcebook. Chicago: Aldine.
  • Verhagen, T., Hooff, B. van den, and Meents, S. (2015) "Toward a Better Use of the Semantic Differential in IS Research: An Integrative Framework of Suggested Action," Journal of the Association for Information Systems: Vol. 16: Iss. 2, Article 1.

External links[edit]

Original courtesy of Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Semantic_differential — Please support Wikipedia.
This page uses Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia. A portion of the proceeds from advertising on Digplanet goes to supporting Wikipedia.

32 news items

United States Sports Academy Sports Journal

United States Sports Academy Sports Journal
Fri, 22 Apr 2016 07:48:45 -0700

For example, participants were asked to rate the following statement on a evaluative seven-point semantic differential scale ranging from +3 (Extremely) to -3 (Extremely): “In your opinion, purchasing a sport product based on information acquired from ...


Mon, 29 Feb 2016 04:00:00 -0800

Humans are tremendously sensitive to unfairness. Unfairness provokes strong negative emotional reactions and influences our subsequent decision making. These decisions might not only have consequences for ourselves and the person who treated us ...

Business 2 Community

Business 2 Community
Tue, 10 Nov 2015 07:40:13 -0800

When a test is too long, we notice the bias of central tendency. Fatigued, respondents begin to default to the mean score on any kind of Likert or Semantic Differential-type scale. An item analysis performed at several junctures can easily determine if ...


Wed, 13 May 2015 03:26:13 -0700

The other topics investigated were: Attitude towards carrier screening in the Jewish community was measured using a semantic differential five-point scale with four bipolar adjective pairs: good–bad, alarming–not alarming, desirable–not desirable, and ...

New York Magazine

New York Magazine
Thu, 09 Oct 2014 07:03:45 -0700

The participants then took a test meant to measure perception of a word's meaning, called the semantic differential. It's a seven-point scale, with two adjectives with opposite meaning at either end, and a zero in the middle. For example: good ___ ___ ...

Science Daily (press release)

Science Daily (press release)
Wed, 13 Feb 2013 15:26:53 -0800

Over 50 years ago, psychologist Charles Osgood developed an influential method, known as the 'semantic differential', that attempts to measure the connotative, emotional meaning of a word or concept. Osgood found that about 50 per cent of the variation ...


Fri, 30 May 2014 06:40:15 -0700

They then filled out semantic differential and Likert questionnaires to assess their brand attitude, engagement with the ad type and product involvement. Dr Steve Bellman says all three ad types were effective, primarily because they generated similar ...
Inside Higher Ed
Tue, 10 Sep 2013 00:06:21 -0700

... some other so-called enlightened state government. Seriously, the U.S. State Department's passport office would suffice and leave the DMV out of it. Or move to Nepal or Australia where gender is more nuanced. Maybe a 7-point semantic differential ...

Oops, we seem to be having trouble contacting Twitter

Support Wikipedia

A portion of the proceeds from advertising on Digplanet goes to supporting Wikipedia. Please add your support for Wikipedia!

Searchlight Group

Digplanet also receives support from Searchlight Group. Visit Searchlight