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Understanding Reverse Scoring of Likert Scale Questions SPSS

In this tutorial, i will explain the Understanding Reverse Scoring of Likert Scale Questions using SPSS

Example 1

Questionnaires that use a Likert scale (eg. strongly disagree, disagree, neutral, agree, strongly agree) for answering questions often contain some items which are to be reverse scored. For example, in a self-esteem questionnaire we may have some positively worded questions (eg. I take a positive attitude toward myself), but also some negatively worded questions (eg. At times, I think I am no
good at all).
In the above example, we might attribute an answer of strongly disagree with a score of 1, disagree = 2, neutral =3, agree = 4 and strongly agree =5 for each question. This would be fine for the positively worded questions, as this would give people with high self-esteem a high score, however, we can’t use the same scoring for the negatively worded questions. Instead what we do is reverse
score the negatively worded questions.
Reverse scoring means that the numerical scoring scale runs in the opposite direction. So, in the above example strongly disagree would attract a score of 5, disagree would be 4, neutral still equals 3, agree becomes 2 and strongly agree = 1.
The same principle applies regardless of the length or wording of Likert Scale being used. For example, we might have the following 7 point scale:

Example 2

Many psychological questionnaires include a mixture of “positively-keyed” and “negatively-keyed” items, and this needs to be addressed before computing the scores on the questionnaires and before conducting any analyses.

Positively-keyed items and negatively-keyed item

Positively-keyed items are items that are phrased so that an agreement with the item represents a relatively high level of the attribute being measured. For example, a self-esteem questionnaire might include an item such as “Alike myself”, which is rated on a 5-point Likert scale (1 = Strongly Disagree, 2 = Disagree, 3 = Neutral, 4 = Agree, 5 = Strongly Agree). This item is positively-keyed, because an Agreement or Strong Agreement with the item indicates a relatively high level of self-esteem (at least as compared to a Disagreement with the item). 

Negatively-keyed items are items that are phrased so that an agreement with the item represents a relatively. Low Level of the attribute being measured. For example, a self-esteem questionnaire might include an item such as “I dislike myself”, rated on the same 5-point scale (1 = Strongly Disagree, 2 = Disagree, 3 = Neutral, 4 = Agree, 5 =Strongly Agree). This item is negatively-keyed, because an Agreement or Strong Agreement with the item indicates a relatively low level of self-esteem (at least as compared to a Disagreement with the item).

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Reverse-scoring negatively-keyed items

 

 If a questionnaire includes positively-keyed and negatively-keyed items, then the negatively-keyed items must be “reverse-scored” before computing individuals’ total scores. We do this so that high scores on the questionnaire reflect relatively high levels of the attribute being measured by the questionnaire. Reverse-scoring the negatively-keyed items ensures that all of the items – those that are originally negatively-keyed and those that are positively-keyed – are consistent with each other, in terms of what an “agree” or “disagree” imply.

 

To reverse score an item, we transform or re-code the responses. So that high “scores” on the item indicate high levels of the attribute being measured (and so that low scores indicate low levels of the attribute). For example, if an individual taking a self-esteem test responded “1” (Strongly Disagree) to the “I dislike myself” item, then were code this individual’s response to a 5. 

 

Thus, the reverse-scored item now has a high score (a 5 instead of a 1), which indicates a high level of self-esteem. This is based on the reasonable assumption that someone who strongly disagrees with the statement that she dislikes herself has relatively high self-esteem. That is, a disagreement to “I dislike” myself is logically similar to an agreement to “I like myself. “So, we transform all 1’s on this item to 5’s and we transform all 2’s to 4’s. 

 

Similarly, we transform high scores on the negatively-keyed items to become low scores (thus indicating low levels of the attribute being measured) – recoding 5’s to become 1’s and recoding 4’s to become 2’s. Because the 5-point scale includes 3 as a neutral point, we can leave all 3’s alone. By reverse-scoring all of the negatively-keyed items, we’ve created consistency among the items.

 

Once we’ve reverse-scored all of the negatively-keyed items on a questionnaire, we can compute the participants’ total scale scores for the questionnaire. The logic of reverse-scoring works for most self-report questionnaires that include a mixture of positively-keyed and negatively-keyed items. The example above illustrates the process for a 5-point Likert scale, but it would also work for a True/False questionnaire, for 7-point scales, and so on. In each case, we’d identify the negatively-keyed items, and re-code “high” scores (egg “Trues) to become low scores (“Falsa’s) and vice versa. Then we’d create the total scale scores.

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