I am concerned that when Likert-scale type questions are used in self-evaluation questions, the results are ambiguous and would like to know if it's possible to address this ambiguity.
Interpersonal Reactivity Index
Although I have seen this in multiple questionnaires, in this question, I would like to focus on it's use in the Interpersonal Reactivity Index (IRI), which is used to measure empathy. The index is a set of questions that must be answered according to a 5-point Likert-scale ranging from "Does Not Describe Me Well" to "Describes Very Well".
Consider this question from the IRI:
- I daydream and fantasize, with some regularity, about things that might happen to me.
In this case, my concern is the temporal descriptor "with some regularity". How is someone filling this survey supposed to determine what the population mean of "regular" means? Is it once a week? Once a month?
I have similar concerns about the following question:
- I often have tender, concerned feelings for people less fortunate than me.
What is "often"? What depth/duration do the "tender, concerned feelings" require to qualify for this question?
How to Address Ambiguity
How is this ambiguity of language, in regards to personal assessment, addressed in these types of surveys? It seems like a better designed survey would first try to establish the person's view of the general population in terms of range of feelings it's trying to describe, as well as the duration and frequency. Consequently, the person's assessment of the general population could be taken into account for their own personal assessment.
Have concerns similar to this been addressed before in other contexts?