John E. O'Brien

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (M.A.) in Sociology



Physical Description

1 online resource. Digitized manuscript


Semantic differential technique, Aging, Social perception




The purpose of this investigation was to assess the validity of utilizing the same semantic differential test as a measure of social evaluation for persons of different ages. The semantic differential, a rating technique by which judgments of stimuli are made on seven-interval bipolar descriptive continua called "scales", currently receives widespread usage as a measure of attitudes toward aging and the elderly. However, a lack of semantic stability across stimuli and across subjects, known, respectively, as "concept-scale" and "subject2 scale" interaction, has been found to occur with the technique in various areas of research. That such a lack of stability might occur across stimuli and/or subjects of different ages is suggested by the existence of . di fferences between people of different ages which affect both the appearance and functioning of the individual. These differences derive from the biological aging process, the life cycle process, and the social change process. This study investigated whether such cross-age differences are of sufficient severity to cause people of different ages to be perceived as different classes of stimuli and/or to perceive others as different populations of subjects.

Ratings of eight videotaped stimulus models were made by 60 younger (aged 22 to 32) and 60 older (aged 60 and older ) volunteer subjects on a semantic differential test composed of 38 scales. The stimulus models, consisting of four younger and four older adults, were non-actors, unknown to the rating subjects, and presented for one minute in a standardized visual format and without sound. Of the 38 scales used, seven were selected as reference scales from earlier studies, 30 were suggested by a volunteer "generating" sample of 30 younger and JO older subjects, and one (young/old) was included as a check on the perceived ages of the stimulus models. Scale scores were factor analyzed to establish the underlying factor structure of social evaluation and to ascertain whether it rema1ned stable across stimulus model and subject age levels. Four separate factor analyses were performed -- younger stimulus models/younger subjects, younger stimulus models/older subjects, older stimulus J models/older subjects, and older stimulus models/younger subjects -- permitting comparisons between the factor matrices for concept-scale and subject-scale interaction.

Three factors were defined by each of the four separate factor analyses of the scales. Factors A and B were found by two different methods of assessing factor similarity (inspection and coefficients of congruence) to be highly similar across both stimulus model and subject age levels; Factor C (a weakly defined factor) was found to be similar only for the older stimulus models across subject age levels. An examination of the scales heavily loaded on each factor for all relevant factor matrices resulted in the interpretation of Factors A, B, and C as reflecting Interpersonal Ability, Instrumental Ability, and Propriety, respectively.

This study resulted in findings bearing upon three interrelated areas. First, the data suggest that: 1) older and younger adults constitute qualitatively approximately the same class of stimuli, and 2) older and younger adults constitute qualitatively approximately the same population of subjects. That is, perceptions were based on the same underlying dimensions of meaning regardless of age. Second, the data suggest that two major dimensions of social evaluation are Interpersonal Ability and Instrumental Ability. Comparisons of these two attitudinal dimensions with dimensions from other semantic differential studies revealed striking similarity. Third, the finding of stable scales and replicable dimensions suggests the appropriateness of constructing a cross-age semantic differential for social evaluation. Consequently, a 15-scale Cross-Age Semantic Differential for the measurement of social evaluation was proposed.

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