Psychiatry & Psychology--General/Emotion Math.


I've been reading a book on gaining self confidence and learning to appreciate time away from other people to learn to be happy without other people, and often there are psychological tests and exercises in it to prove the author's points. One of the tests requires a person to assess their feelings at a given time before something happens (and probably again after). Although emotions are quite qualitative it appeared in the test they were each measured between 0 and 100 percent based on self reporting. So one could be both 60% angry, 75% anxious, 15% relieved, and other feelings that are examined independantly of one another. Would it mean anything to add those percentage numbers together and treat them as integers, and divide each by the total number to produce relative percentages that include all feelings? Would that be as useful if not more useful than asking someone to give percentages of all their current feelings, that can not equal more than 100%? I am asking this in general, and not necessarily in reference to the book, or it's particular tests. More in regard to how psych research actually quantitates things.

You raise a bigger question than you might realize, James.

It's long been the goal of psychology to quantify intelligence, ambition, fear, ego, abilities, and just about any personality attribute you can think of. There are some 5000 instruments already published in books like Tests in Print and Mental Measurements Yearbook.

A major issue around all of them is the definition of what's supposedly being measured, the attribute or "construct" as it's called (reminding us that "ego" doesn't actually exist in any physical sense, but that it's an idea constructed by someone's mind).  And we're still particularly weak in defining emotional constructs.

These tests have been put through sophisticated validity studies and subjected to scientific debate in academic journals. The ones you describe are often termed "popular" or "junk" psychology, and cannot be taken as meaningful, certainly not in terms of mathematical manipulation. Sorry.


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Alan Auerbach


Taught psychology for 30 years, authored four textbooks. Specialize in introductory and industrial/organizational psychology, but will tackle wider range of areas.

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