The Great Likert Data Debate

by Karen Grace-Martin


I first encountered the Great Likert Data Debate in 1992 in my first statistics class in my psychology graduate program.

My stats professor was a brilliant mathematical psychologist and taught the class unlike any psychology grad class I’ve ever seen since.  Rather than learn ANOVA in SPSS, we derived the Method of Moments using Matlab.  While I didn’t understand half of what was going on, this class roused my curiosity and led me to take more theoretical statistics classes.  The rest is history.

A large section of the class was dedicated to the fact that Likert data was not interval and therefore not appropriate for  statistics that assume normality such as ANOVA and regression.  This was news to me.  Meanwhile, most of the rest of the field either ignored or debated this assertion.

16 years later, the debate continues.  A nice discussion of the debate is found on the Research Methodology blog by Hisham bin Md-Basir.  It’s a nice blog with thoughtful entries that summarize methodological articles in the social and design sciences.

To be fair, though, this blog entry summarizes an article on the “Likert scales are not interval” side of the debate.  For a balanced listing of references, see Can Likert Scale Data Ever Be Continuous?

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