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.

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)


  • 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.

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.
622 videos foundNext > 

Scale tutorial "Performing a Semantic Differential Test"

In this tutorial the performance of a Semantic Differential test using the software for Listening Experiments Scale is explained. Download or get more information about Scale in: http://www.audiogr...

Semantic Differential

Online Survey Software by FluidSurveys www.fluidsurveys.com.

Excel # 231 - Semantisches Differential / Polaritätsprofil - Diagramm

Das Polaritätsprofil beschreibt grafisch die Einstellung einer Person zu einem Begriff auf Basis von polarisierenden Wortpaaren, welche zwei Extreme einer Dimension beschreiben sollen. Excel...

Experimental Reserch Methods: Semantic Differential Scakes

Semantic Differential Scae video for Jenny's Fall 2014 Experimental Research Class. Leah Flunnsinger Lindsay Brown Lauren Holder Cristian DeLeon.

Scale tutorial "Analysing a Semantic Differential Test"

In this tutorial the analysis of a Semantic Differential test using the software for Listening Experiments Scale is explained. Download or get more information about Scale in: http://www.audiogroup...

UX Clinic Season02 Episode 10 — Semantic Differential

+DESMAnetwork will be the case study featured in this episode of the +UXClinic. The design team will use #Semantic Differential as #designmethod to analyze their current website and...

Semantic Differential Scale

This video is about Semantic Differential.

Creating a Semantic Differential Scale

This video was created for educational purposes by students enrolled in an SCOM 383 (Experimental Research Methods) course at James Madison University. The video details what a semantic ...

Scale tutorial "Creating a Semantic Differential Test"

In this tutorial the creation of a Semantic Differential test using the software for Listening Experiments Scale is explained. Download or get more information about Scale in: http://www.audiogroup...

Semantic Differential Scales

A "how to" video filmed to teach people what a semantic differential scale is, how to create one themselves and give some examples of them.

622 videos foundNext > 

15 news items

American Live Wire

American Live Wire
Sat, 28 Feb 2015 20:07:30 -0800

Participants rated the physician's compassion using a semantic differential format containing five pairs of physician characteristics. The characteristics were warm/cold, pleasant/unpleasant, compassionate/distant, sensitive/insensitive, and caring ...
New York Magazine
Thu, 09 Oct 2014 07:08:24 -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 ___ ___ ...


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 ...
Gamasutra (blog)
Fri, 27 Jun 2014 07:20:08 -0700

Assessed on seven 5-point semantic differential scale for the following statement: "for me, exercising in my leisure time over the next 6 months would be..." 2. Subjective norms: it is one's perception/belief of the social pressures and/or opinions of ...
Times of India
Mon, 30 Sep 2013 16:18:04 -0700

To gauge the attitude of 1,472 teachers in Kolkata, researchers used what is known as a semantic differential scale. "In a semantic differential scale, respondents are asked to choose where his or her position lies, on a scale between two bipolar ...
Wed, 01 Aug 2012 14:00:00 -0700

Semantic differential measures the strengths and weaknesses of a product or service by having respondents rate it between positive and negative descriptors. It is used to develop a precise, measurable profile of what creates predisposition to purchase.
Center for Research on Globalization
Sun, 03 Feb 2013 10:26:55 -0800

In these studies a number of semantic differential items were factor analyzed and the factors were given names that corresponded with certain qualities of the piece of music (e.g. activity, coolness, heaviness, and sadness). Several years later, Gorn ...
Business 2 Community
Thu, 27 Sep 2012 09:33:09 -0700

Companies rely on customer experience management (CEM) programs to provide insight about how to manage customer relationships effectively to grow their business. CEM programs require measurement of primarily two types of variables, satisfaction with ...

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