Problems in the Use of Measurements

Problems in the Use of
Indirect Methods of Attitude
/ Cpf1^ee
Problems in the Use of
Indirect Methods of Attitude
Social scientasts are mating increasing use of various indirect techniques of
attitude assessment. These techniques, ranging from projective devices to hidden
intelligence tests, are intended to elicit rdeeplying", attitudes or personality characteristics which might not otherwise be accessible to the investigator.
In this article, the author argues that while these techniques may have considerable scientific value, their use and susceptibility to misuse raise serious problems of both an ethical and a practical character. Dr. Weschler suggests that the
formulation of a code of procedure governing the use of such instruments may
ultimately be necessary.
This article is an expanded version of a paper presented to the annual convention of the American Psychological Association in September, 1950. The
thor is a Research Assistant of the Institute of Industrial Relations and Lecturer in
Psychology at the University of California in Los Angeles.
The use of indirect methods of attitude measurement has recently come
into vogue, and a number, of new techniques have been deveoped which supposedly get at those "deeper level" attitudes which a person may be interiorizing and unwilling to reveal.' These,
indirect devices conceal from the individual the intent of the measurement
and allow him to produce responses
which would not be freely forthcoming
if he were fearful of becoming personally involved. The purpose of this
paper is to raine several as yet unresolved questions relating to the use of
these new techniques.2
Indirect methods of attitude measurement may be constructed and used for
a number of purposes. They are used to
explore and test various psychological
theories, especially those related to problems of learning and perception. The
work of Murphy, Bruner, Postman and
many others is dedicated to this particular type of interest. They are used to
I See Campbell D. T., "*The Indirect Assessment of Social Attitudes," Psychological
Bulkein, 47, I, January 1950, 15-38; also I. R.
Weschler and R. Bernberg, "Indirect Methods
of Attitude Measurement," Int. 1. of Opinion
and Atitude Research, VoL 4, Summer 1950,
pp. 209-259.
2 The author is indebted to Professors Franklin Fearing and Robert Tannenbaum and to
Dr. William Schutz, Dr. Eugene Cogan and
Mr. Murray Kahane for suggestions and helpful criticisms.
Reprinted by permission of the Public Opinion Quarterly, Princeton University.
construct reliable and valid test instru- union and management people, and was
ments which may be valuable in the later incorporated as part of the test
clinical situation as part of a test bat- battery in a study on "The Personal
tery for the assessment of the total per- Factor in Labor Mediation."
sonality. The work of Murray and his
The results were, in general, as exassociates might be mentioned in this pected. Union members and students
particular context. Finally, indirect at- who classified themselves as "pro-labor"
titude measurement devices are applied scored high in the "pro-labor" direction,
in the actual field situation for the as measured by the test, while the manmeasurement of attitudes held by the agement representatives and students
members of various groups.
declaring themselves to be "pro-management" scored low. When the test was
A Case Study
administred to the labor mediators,
Typical of these studies, perhaps, is many mediators who were rated high
one which the writer completed on "The by their colleagues in terms of their abilPersonal Factor in Labor Mediation," ity to do the job tended to score in the
utilizing the "error-choice" technique "neutral zone," that is, near the sample
for the measurement of attitudes to- population mean, while those who were
ward labor and management.' For pur- rated as "poor" by their colleagues
poses of illustration, I would like to scored either in the "pro-management"
refer briefly to this study because some or in the "pro-labor" zones of the attiof the ethical and public relations prob- tude range.
lems which arose during its progress are
There was no difficulty in validating
probably encountered in any kind of in- the first form of our "Labor Relations
vestigation using indirect methods of Information Inventory" with the help
attitude measurement.
of UCLA students and various labor
The "error-choice" technique, devel- and management groups, especially
oped for attitude testing by Professor since the hypotheses and workings of
Hammond,4 utilizes an information test the technique were explained after each
which forces the respondent to choose administration of the test. Trouble came
between two alternative answers, each for sundry reasons from the labor mediof which is by intent factually wrong, ators who were not ready to accept the
or controversial, or of such a nature results which had been obtained. A lathat the correct answer is not easily ac- bor mediator usually sees himself as a
cessible. This kind of test situation pro- "neutral" agent who, through his pervokes the respondent to select pseudo- sonal skill, is able to bring labor and
facts from memory, and the "direction" management together in a settlement of
of the error is measured as an indica- mutual satisfaction. Although many "bition of the respondent's attitude.
ased" mediators, as measured by the
Using the "error-choice" technique,
' See Weschler I. R., 'The Personal Factor
the writer developed a test which was
Mediation," Personnel Psychology,
designed to measure both information inVol.LaborSummer
1950, pp. 113-133.
as well as attitudes in the field of labor
4 See Hammond K., "Measuring Attitudes
relations. The test was validated on a by Error-Choice: An Indirect Method," I. Abgroup of students, as well as on active norm. Soc. Psychol., Vol. 43, I948, pp. 38-48.
test, were rated "good" by their col- direct attitude measurement techniques
leagues on performance, the fact that keep the respondent in the dark about
most of them scored far from neutral the true purpose of the test; or, putting
on the test apparently became a threat it in less elegant terms, they use an eleto their personal security. The following ment of deceit to trick the respondent
excerpt from a letter by one mediator is into answers which the experimenter
an indication of the feeling which many considers more honest.
The widespread use of various indiothers may have shared:
methods of attitude measurement
"I tend to agree with those media- creates a series of problems with ethical
tors who participated in your survey as well as public relations implications,
who feel that our confidence was vio- and any investigator who makes a decilated and abused when condusions sion about using these indirect methods
were reached and publicized which might well consider these two related
were based to some degree on 'load- aspects. Although many of us may have
ed' questions. Those of us who agreed rationalized our use of these indirect
to be 'guinea pigs' in your survey methods with the maxim "truthregard
were assured that our replies would less of consequences," the time has come
be held in strict confidence, and al- to analyze the consequences that are inthough I may not disagree very much volved.
with the condusions which you have
From. an ethical point of view, the
reached, I am questioning the pro- social scientist must be concerned pripriety of using the materials which marily with the interests of his subjects
you have collected."
and should view with suspicion any
It should be mentioned in passing that attitude investigation which endangers
none of the individuals participating in the subjects' security. This is, in essence,
the survey could in any way be identi- a "client-centered" point of view, which
places the investigator under a moral
obligation to protect the goals and obTrickery or Scientific Method?
jectives of his subjects and not to unWhen the attitude surveyor presents dertake any course of action which is
his subjects with materials and instruc- harmful to their social, economic or
tions which are not related to the stated psychological well-being.
From a public relations point of view,
purpose of his investigation, it becomes
difficult to distinguish between honesty the social scientist is obliged to consider
of purpose and deception. Members of only those practical aspects of his inthe public who are misled into offering vestigation which concern the smooth
a glimpse into "the hidden crevices of functioning of relations with his subtheir soul," to use one of the time-worn jects or the general public. Public reladiches, are not likely to appear enthusi- tions minded, he has an "experimenterastic on discovering the hoax, even centered" point of view which looks
though it may have been carried out primarily to the creation of a permissive
for the noble scientific goals of obtaining atmosphere that makes possible the orknowledge and learning truth. The "er- derly progress of long range research.
ror-choice" method and many other in- A research activity may prove to be un-
wise from an ethical point of view, but public relations rather than an ethical
if the researcher concerns himself main- problem. Without full participation by
ly with the public relations aspects of his subjects, the social scientist cannot
his investigation, he should be pre- hope to get results which accurately repared to deal with some of the follow- flcct the attitudes of his total population.
ing problems: How to treat subjects His job, therefore, is to encourage parwho discover that they have been duped ticipation through an active educational
into revealing their attitudes on one of program among the general public.
The investigator who is unable to
the new measurement devices, How to
deal with the rising distrust of the pub- get the subject's permission to test his
lic toward the techniques as well as the attitude may find it appropriate to utifindings of social research, How to reach lize some of the indirect techniques to
the public which discovers the manner which reference has been made. In this
of operation of these indirect devices, instance, the investigator gets cooperaHow to prevent possible misuse of the tion by involving the subject in a situatechniques which he is inventing, How tion which does not reveal to him the
to encourage the public to participate true intent of the investigation. The
in the increasing number of projects subject fails to give the experimenter
which he is contemplating for the fu- permission to examine his attitudes, but
agrees to participate because he is unable to discern the true nature of the
Questions That Need Asking
investigator's intentions.
Every experimenter who considers
The Propriety of Deception. This
utilizing indirect methods of attitude raises a second vital question that might
measurement in his investigation might be posed by the social scientist at this
profitably ask himself a series of ques- time: "Do I have the right to deceive
tions whose answers will help him to people in order to get at their attideal with some of the ethical and public tudes?" It must be understood that the
relations problems which he may have social scientist is in a different situation
to face.
The Right to Investigate. The first than the clinician who uses a variety of
question, basic to any kind of attitude projective techniques for the purpose of
investigation, might perhaps look some- helping the individual make a better,
thing like this: "Do I have the right more healthy adjustment. The projecto investigate other people's attitudes?" tive tools which the dinician applies are
A democratic society presumably pro- part of his diagnostic kit, similar to the
tects the right of the individual to his many other devices which the regular
personal privacy and there is no law, physician uses in his practice. ITe cliother than the Census law or perhaps ent knows the' intent of the therapist,
some local ordinance, which forces him and even though he may not understand
to participate in a polling activity. If or be convinced of the validity of the
the respondent who recognizes the in- various projective techniques, he feels
tent of the investigator refuses to take that the therapist has his best interests
a stand on an issue which the social re- at heart.
searcher is interested in, it illustrates a
This relationship of trust and confi-
dence is usually not the case when the the right to deceive people in order to
social scientist uses indirect methods to get at their attitudes, there is still an
get at the attitudes of individuals who additional point which should be conare quite likely unwilling to divulge sidered. It may not take long before the
their opinions through the use of any public in general "catches on" to the
of the more direct techniques. The vio- operation of the various indirect techlent anti-Semite, the latent radical, the niques of attitude measurement. When
arch conservative usually cannot be this occurs, the usefulness of these techidentified in the experimental test situa- niques will be greatly impeded, because
tion unless devices arc used which pcnc- they depend for their effectiveness upon
trate the protective cover with which hiding the purpose for which they are
these individuals surround themselves. used. Furthermore, unless precautionary
It should be kept in mind that in- measures are taken to prepare the pubdirect methods of attitude measurement lic for the type of investigations in
vary greatly in the effectiveness of their which the social scientist expects it to
disguise. Some of these tools hide only cooperate, it may look upon all operathe purpose of their utilization, and a tions of social science with rising scorn,
sophisticated subject can easily see the distrust, or perhaps even fear.
Misuse of Indirect Techniques. The
many ways in which the results can be
utilized. In this respect, the degree of third question which the social scientist
indirectness of the attitude measurement should ask himself is: "Do I have the
device is a function of the subject's right to report on new indirect attitude
sophistication and depends greatly upon measurement devices, at a time when
the frame of reference which the sub- these can be misused by unscrupulous
ject brings to the testing situation. Thus, politicians or other selfish interests?"
The present political and social clithe differential perception of the degree
of indirectness produces a variable which mate abounds with instances of witchpartly accounts for the various degrees hunting, smearing of innocent reputaof tolerance and resistance with which tions, and attacking of people because
the "duped" subjects react to their dis- of their political and social beliefs. It is
covery of the real purpose of these test- quite easy to imagine that some of the
ing devices. An analogy to what I have new indirect attitude measurement dein mind can be taken from the field of vices might be discovered by people in
mental testing. Although an intelligence various kinds of inquisition movements,
test usually uses straightforward direct and used by them for evil purposes. Almanipulations, many subjects are un- though it will undoubtedly take a long
aware-at least while taking the test- time before any of these techniques is
that their intelligence is being measured. valid for prediction at the individual
Through the eyes of the unsophisti- level, I am sure that before too long
cated subject, the intelligence test ap- enthusiastic and unscrupulous practipears as an indirect method although tioners may find these techniques idealthe examiner may consider the intent of ly suited for prying into the attitudes of
the investigation quite obvious.
people whom they regard as dangerous.
Even if we decide that we do have
The "error-choice" test is a good case
in point. No doubt instruments using Mediation," and followed by a grossly
the "error-choice" technique might be inaccurate statement of the findings.
constructed which could be applied to This reporter undoubtedly felt that he
eliminate allegedly "disloyal" citizens had given an accurate account of the
from jobs of confidence and trust, to mediator study; his misinterpretations
spot so-called "troublemakers" and "agi- may have been due to a lack of clarity
tators" in industrial concerns, or, in ef- with which the assumptions were origfect, to discover "non-conformers" in inally expressed.
many other important social areas. The
The reliance which the public still
writer hopes that this pessimism is not seems to place upon the published rewarranted, although he feels we should sults of attitude surveys may have a
consider all possible ramifications.
bearing on the question. As Edward L.
Misinterpretation of Results. Finally Bernays has writen:
there is a fourth question whose perti"There is a great danger in the
nence is not limited necessarily to the
new kind of leadership which polls
use of indirect methods of attitude meashave produced in the United Statesurement: "What is my responsibility
leadership of obedience to polls....
for seeing that the findings which I reThe people who pin their faith on the
port are properly interpreted?"
permanency of attitudes as shown by
The danger of misinterpretation is
polls, and therefore believe they are
especially great in those investigations
accurate forecasts, are often misled....
which utilize the various indirect methThe present belief that polls show a
ods of attitude measurement. The genpermanent public opinion helps to
eral public, unfamiliar with the backmaintain the status quo ... the danground and assumptions of these methger to society is self-evident."5
ods, is likely to read something into the
results which may not even be implied
This paper has, it is hoped, suggested
in the investigator's formal report. An some of the considerations which should
illustration of this sort of thing comes be looked into before the investigator
again from the study of the personal decides on the use of indirect methods
factor in labor mediation. A reporter of attitude measurement. As the applifor one of the large industrial trade pub- cation of these techniques becomes more
lications learned, through personal con- widespread, some codes will have to be
tact, about the "error-choice" test which established to provide a guide for the
was devised to test the nmediator's handling of the ethical as well as the
knowledge as well as his so-called "im- public relations problems to which I
partiality." He asked permission to see have referred. At the moment, the writthe study, and to quote from it prior to er is not in the position to provide these
its publication in one of the profes- codes; he will be satisfied if this presensional journals. The request was granted, tation is found useful as a lead for furbut he was warned to check any con- ther discussion and possible action.
clusions or statements of which he
5 Bernays E. L., "Should Pollsters Be Limight not feel sure. No more was heard censed?",
Journal of Opinion
until his story appeared in print, with and AttitudcInternationat
Research, Vol. 3, Spring I949,
the headline "Heads-or-Tails Odds Beat P. 9.