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Core Commitments: Educating Students for
Personal and Social Responsibility

Instruments from Other Perspectives on Personal and Social Responsibility Development in Students

This resource is adapted from the 2004 research of Lynn E. Swaner in her paper, Review of the Literature: Educating for Personal and Social Responsibility:A Planning Project of the Association of American Colleges and Universities. September 13, 2004 (Part III)

Not many instruments from perspectives other than cognitive-structural are used as extensively or are as directly applicable to the question of personal and social responsibility development in college. However, a few measures can be identified in the literature that assess pertinent dimensions of the self such as affect, values, and behavior, as well as personality, style and interests.

Assessment of Affect:

Values-Based Assessments:

Behavioral Assessments:

Personality, Style, and Interest Assessments

Cognitive-Structural Measurments
Back to Assessment overview

Assessment of Affect

The major instruments used to assess affect—and in particular, the development or strength of an individual’s capacity for empathy—include self-report measures and two questionnaires: the Mehrabian and Epstein Questionnaire Measure of Empathic Tendencies and the Interpersonal Reactivity Index (IRI).

Self Report: Batson (1987) describes self-report measures used to assess empathy functioning and development in adults as follows. Self-report questionnaires generally present a situation in which a person is in distress, and then ask subjects to respond to between ten and thirty adjectives that describe “possible emotional reactions to the situation—sympathetic, compassionate, alarmed, grieved, upset, softhearted, tender, and the like” (356). At that point, subjects rate the degree to which they perceive they are experiencing each emotion on a Likert scale from 1 to 7 or 1 to 9, with “not at all” or “extremely” as the endpoints of the scale. Batson describes multiple problems with these types of self-report measures, including subjects’ ability to accurately recognize and describe their emotions. Furthermore, there is often confusion by subjects and researchers about what the names of particular emotions connote. Finally, Batson reports research showing that instruments assessing “measures of empathy as a dispositional personality variable” (358) are often significantly affected by self-presentation bias, or subjects’ responding according to how they would like to be perceived as opposed to how they actually feel and behave.

  • For a detailed discussion: Batson, C. D. 1987. Self-report ratings of empathic emotion. In Empathy and its development, ed. N. Eisenberg and J. Strayer, 356-60. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

The Mehrabian & Epstein Questionnaire: a paper-and-pencil measure of empathy in adults.  Bryant (1987) describes this instrument as asking subjects to respond to thirty-three items on a +4 to -4 scale, from very strong agreement to very strong disagreement. Out of the thirty-three items, sixteen are designed so that agreement indicates an empathic response, and for seventeen items disagreement indicates an empathic response. Items are categorized by the following types: external behavioral cues, such as seeing someone crying; internal emotional states of others, such as seeing a depressed person; situational cues, such as witnessing someone getting hurt; general emotional atmospheres, such as excitement surrounding the individual; and salient psychological states of persons, such as foreigners who are struggling to belong in a new country. A higher score on the instrument indicates greater empathy; Bryant explains, “This measure was designed, then, to be global in its consideration of empathy as a general disposition of perceived emotional responsiveness to others’ emotional experiences” (362). Bryant also reports that research demonstrates a positive relationship between empathy as measured by this instrument and altruism behaviors For more detailed discussions:

  • Bryant, B. K. 1987. Critique of comparable questionnaire methods in use to assess empathy in children and adults. In Empathy and its development, ed. N. Eisenberg and J. Strayer, 361-73. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
  • Mehrabian, A., and N. Epstein. 1972. A measure of emotional empathy. Journal of Personality 40 (4): 525-43.

Interpersonal Reactivity Index (IRI): This twenty-eight-item questionnaire measures both cognitive and affective dimensions of empathy by asking subjects to rate each item on a five-point Likert scale from 0 (does not describe me well) to 4 (describes me very well). Factor analysis for the instrument involves four factors, two of which are cognitive and two of which are affective. The two cognitive factors are Perspective Taking (shifting from self- to otheroriented in reacting to another’s distress) and Fantasy (imagining the feelings of others). The two affective factors are Empathic Concern (having sympathy for another’s feelings) and Personal Distress (experiencing another’s distress as if it were one’s own). Each of these factors receives a separate score; summing scores is not recommended for the instrument, as its basic design assumes empathy is not a global trait but rather a set of factors. However, relationships between these four factors have been established through research: Perspective Taking and Fantasy appear to positively correlate with Empathic Concern, and Perspective Taking and Personal Distress appear to be inversely related. The IRI also registers gender differences: Hatcher et al. (1994) report that females tend to achieve higher empathy scores than males. For more detailed discussions:

  • Davis, M. H. 1983. Measuring individual differences in empathy: Evidence for a multidimensional approach. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 44:113-26.
  • Hatcher, S. L., M. S. Naeau, L .K. Walsh, M. Reynolds, J. Galea, and K. Marz. 1994. The teaching of empathy for high school and college students: Testing Rogerian methods with the Interpersonal Reactivity Index. Adolescence 29:961-74.


Values-Based Assessments

There are several critiques of values-based assessments that call into question their usefulness in research at the college level. First, a general concern is the ability determine whether a given assessment has an adequate number of values, or if the values are relevant to the population and study under consideration. A second critique is the general lack of definition of what constitutes a value, as well as how a particular
value—for example, “freedom”—may be defined. Both of these concerns are relevant not only for test construction, but also for subjects who take the instrument; thus, value assessments do not allow for an in-depth exploration of the subject’s understanding of what a value is or how the subject defines a particular value.

The Values Scale (VS):The Values Scale (VS) presents subjects with twenty-one values related to work and life roles. These values include those of achievement, altruism, authority, autonomy, personal development, risk, social interaction, social relations, and cultural identity. For each value, subjects are asked to rate five items for their importance on a Likert scale of 1 to 4. Thus, each value has its own scale report that indicates the strength of importance of that value to the subject. Reliability is reported as fair for the instrument, due to the low number of items, and validity is cited as needing additional research.

  • For a more detailed discussion: Super, D. E., and D. D. Nevill. 1986. The values scale, research edition. Palo Alto, CA: Consulting Psychologists Press.

The Value Survey: divides values into terminal values (which are desirable end states of being) and instrumental values (which are desirable modes of
conduct). The Value Survey assesses eighteen of each type, for a total of thirty-six values. Terminal values include a comfortable life, sense of accomplishment, world at peace, equality, family security, freedom, pleasure, self-respect, and social recognition. Instrumental values include being ambitious, broad-minded, courageous, forgiving, helpful, honest, logical, loving, obedient, responsible, and self-controlled. While these values are not defined on the test, each is accompanied by short phrase or synonym. The subject is asked to rank the eighteen terminal and eighteen instrumental values separately, in order of importance and status as a guiding principle in subject’s life. No ties between values are allowed. The rank of each item becomes the score for that particular value, with lower score indicating a higher level of importance to the subject.
Several noted problems include low reliability due to the low item size and all scores are relative to one another as opposed to measured absolutely; thus, the strength or magnitude of a particular value cannot be assessed.

  • For a more detailed discussion: Rokeach, M. 1973. The nature of human values. New York: Free Press.


Behavioral Assessments

There is a plethora of assessments available to measure specific behaviors of college students, such as alcohol use, cheating, safe-sex practices, and so forth. While some of these measures simply assess the prevalence or severity of these behaviors, others examine factors in the environment and their relationship with specific behaviors. The information generated by these assessments is helpful in understanding behaviors in college and conceptualizing targeted intervention programs, but their relationship with moral development remains unexplored.

Rotter’s Internal-External Scale (IE): measures locus of control, or individuals’ perceptions about the source of events in their lives. In the language of social
learning theory, Rotter’s test measures expectancies for reinforcement of events through internal control (dependent upon the subject’s behavior) versus external control (dependent on the outside world). The assessment involves forced choice of two items paired in opposition, one of which is representative of an external locus of control and the other an internal locus of control. The subject’s score represents the balance of internal to external responses. Reliability and
validity have been established for the instrument, and extensive research has demonstrated the relationship between internal locus of control with positive outcomes such as academic success. The relationship between locus of control and moral behavior is unclear and largely unexamined; however, locus of control does provide insight into individuals’ perceptions of events that happen to them, which hypothetically might, in turn, affect their ability for moral action or inaction in such situations.

  • For a detailed discussion: Rotter, J. B. 1966. Generalized expectancies for internal versus external control of reinforcement. Psychological Monographs 80: Whole No. 609.


Personality, Style, and Interest Assessments

Several personality tests, style assessments, and interest inventories—such as the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI), the Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), and the Strong Interest Inventory, to name a few—are used at the college level to
provide insight into various dimensions of subjects’ personalities and tendencies. While helpful in clinical or counseling settings, the relationship of these measures to personal and social responsibility in college is not clear. The question of how elements of personality and style relate to personal and social responsibility is an interesting one, especially if they are considered as
part of a moral identity. However, these assessments—as they are currently used—do not generally provide information directly applicable to this question.