We all have an opinion on most nearly everything. Our attitudes can be directed at an object, a person, a group, a product, an idea, or an issue. There are many reasons we might want to measure them. For example, you might want to administer a survey about how your employees rate their boss, get feedback on how your customers feel about your service, or gauge how your target market evaluates your main product.
Attitudes last for weeks, months, and even years, and are composed of:
- Knowledge: what we know about the object.
- Emotion: how we feel about the object.
- Intention: likelihood of taking an action.
To measure an attitude toward an object, you must measure knowledge and awareness about it first—data on feelings and intentions are useless if the knowledge about the object is not there. This is an important step that many skip, but if you ask someone about their emotions and intentions toward an object they have no prior knowledge about, you will not get useful information. Even if you have provided a sample product and are seeking feedback, you should first gather data about how and how much they used the product.
To get accurate answers about knowledge, it is not enough to ask, “Are you familiar with X?” That can be interpreted in many ways, ranging from “yes, that sounds familiar” to “I am an expert on this.” Moreover, people may stretch the truth when it comes to knowledge for various reasons. Thus it is more useful to measure depth of knowledge or level of familiarity by asking true/false questions and developing an index that indicates the range of awareness.
After a satisfactory level of baseline knowledge has been confirmed, you can go ahead and measure the emotion aspect of attitudes. First you want to find out whether there is a negative or positive feeling about the object. Seldom are our feelings neutral–though we often like to pretend they are–so you’ll want to omit that option for best results. Second, you want to measure the intensity of the negative or positive emotion. So when measuring the feelings aspect of attitudes, you want to figure out if your audience likes or dislikes the object and to what extent. The most common way to do this is to present an even-numbered scale (even is recommended because choosing an odd number of options will allow for a neutral response) with the negative feeling(s) on the left side and the positive feeling(s) on the right.
Intention is the behavioral aspect of an attitude. You might want to know how likely someone is to quit their job, switch to a competitor, or purchase your product—but the feeling component alone will not give you this information. You must ask this directly. And because our behavior is often situation-specific, consider asking questions where you present a hypothetical circumstance and ask them to make a decision.
Lastly, an additional consideration when measuring attitudes is your response rate. People who feel most strongly about an object are most likely to rate it. This can muddy your results and indicate that people are much more passionate about it than they really are, so take that into consideration as well.
What if you don’t like the data you receive? One way our attitudes can be changed is if we receive new information or have a new experience.