Choosing the right scale

How do I decide what scale to use?
Say I want to track daily happiness, how do I decide between a 5, 7,
10 or 100 point scale?
Should I use different scale for different measurements?

I’ve tracked and rated various things over time, say how much I liked a food, and how much I liked movies. For foods, for some reason, I started with a percentage scale. For movies, I used the IMDB scale (1-10).

What I found out was that as I got more discerning, the movie ratings became “6.7” or “8.2”.

Now I use percentages for everything.

On happiness… I’ve tried various mood/emotion tracking systems and I think it is very hard to keep consistent with the use of scales. I decided I wanted to measure overall well being rather than small changes, so I’ve been using a proxy for happiness, which is “episodes of anger/extreme irritation.” I’ve noticed that my vulnerability to getting pissed off over small annoyances varies with my mood, and is especially linked to some well known correlates: sleep deprivation; work stress; home stress. Usually, I can ride through small annoyances without too much irritation. But sometimes not. Since these are easy to notice, I just record the straight out number of incidents. Most days, 0. Sometimes 1. Every so often 2 or more. This is obviously not sensitive to subtle changes in mood, but it is a good way to observe patterns in negative emotion. I like it because it is very easy to use and doesn’t require much calibration.

Like gary I link events with the scale. For instance, here is my anxiety scale:


-3-zero occurrences of ruminating thought

1-Having to use ‘distraction’ methods to deal with nervousness (Forcing a deep breath, forcing mindfulness.)

3-Shaking in bed (Typically this is a full on panic attack.)

I find linking a scale or attaching a radio button style method to something concrete and less subjective is helpful.

Note: I use Alexandra Carmichael’s +/- system. I also find 1-10 scales to have to much ‘air’ in them.

(I am having trouble finding Alexandra’s link to her personal tracking post. In it she describes her use of both positive and negatives in her tracking–hungry/satiated, black/white. I find that helpful along with the -/+ scaling.)

A related question about “scales” is how the appearance of the scale might effect both the ease of data entry and what score is entered?

As an example, a user of the Tonic app was using it to track pain. She created an item to track called “Pain”, and used a simple scale of 1-3. She told me that she found using this scale — just entering in a number — more difficult and less satisfying than another app that presented the same scale as a set of three images (see the screenshots for the iPhone app Period Tracker Lite as an example). What she said she’s really like was to be able to choose between a sad face, a grumpy face, and a very unhappy face.

I think it depends on your personality to some extent. Some people are happy with using smiley faces to represent mood, while others think they’re silly and prefer to use percentages to one decimal point. I haven’t found the right scale for myself yet, although I’ve tried to make a 1-10 scale with descriptions of what each number on the scale would mean. I gave up trying to make that scale (and track my mood) because I haven’t found a good way to objectively compare my different moods.

I measured happiness on a 0-100 scale where 50 = neutral (neither happy nor sad), 60 = slightly happy, 70 = somewhat happy, 75 = happy, 80 = quite happy, 90 = extremely happy. 40 = slightly sad, 30 = somewhat sad, etc. That worked fine.

[quote=“Seth_Roberts, post:7, topic:84”]
I measured happiness on a 0-100 scale where 50 = neutral (neither happy nor sad), 60 = slightly happy, 70 = somewhat happy, 75 = happy, 80 = quite happy, 90 = extremely happy. 40 = slightly sad, 30 = somewhat sad, etc. That worked fine.
[/quote]Any metrics that indicates that it worked fine?

It worked fine in the sense that I used it to find out useful and surprising stuff. It was easy to enter in my computer, it was sensitive to many changes I made, there weren’t floor or ceiling problems. What I learned made sense in terms of other people’s research.

Right now I am measuring focus/alertness on a 3 point scale. I like this because it isn’t very hard. 1=great, 2=okay, 3=poor. I’m most interested in learning what triggers bad episodes of tiredness (“3”), so this scale makes that pattern easier to see without distractions of subtle differences.

Hello Christian,

I personally use Seth Robert’s approach to measuring mood/happiness:
It’s a three-item scale, and it measures your Happiness, Irritability and Eagerness, and you can measure it on any scale, but I prefer 10-point (from 1 to 10).

Latent traits like mood, emotions, etc. are better measured by more than one question, for “reliability” purposes.