The Journal of Psychology, 1982, 111, 67-70.



University of New South Wales


Alienation is one of the most widely used constructs in sociology. Unfortunately, it is not clear that it is always the same construct as a wide diversity of scales is used to measure it. In the present work an attempt has been made to gather together all items of published scales said to measure alienation and see what they had in common: 168 items were collected and administered to a diverse community sample and were found to form a highly reliable scale which could be reduced to only 20 central items with little loss of reliability.


Bonjean, Hill and McLemore (1), in their study of measuring instruments in sociological research, found in just one five-year period no less than 24 scales and indices measuring alienation or related constructs such as anomie. The obvious question is how much all these different scales have in common. Many of them read quite differently. Olsen (3) has divided alienation into six subcategories: normlessness or guidelessness, powerlessness, meaninglessness, dissimilarity or isolation, dissatisfaction, and disillusionment or cynicism.

Generally, researchers wanting to measure alienation have taken the particular subcategory of alienation that fitted most closely with their theoretical interests and sought out the scale which focused most on that particular concept. To do so, however, leaves the researcher unable to say anything about alienation as a whole. In fact it calls into question whether there is such a thing as alienation overall. Why talk about alienation at all when it is really normlessness or powerlessness, etc. that is in fact being measured? Since discourse about alienation as such does seem to be popular, it seems time that a measuring instrument for the construct itself should be provided. Such instruments do, of course, exist (9), but the way in which they relate to all the other scales said to measure alienation is only partially known t2). Fortunately, we have at least some proof that one overall construct is there to measure. Ray (5) collected all the published items that could be found in the literature that were said to measure alienation or some related construct. When these 168 items were administered to a group of students and subdivided under Olsen's six categories, it was found that the six subscales did in fact all relate highly significantly to one another. Such a long scale, however. is unsuitable for general use and a shorter form that preserved the authoritative construct validity of such a scale would be helpful.


The 168 items were re-administered to two groups, 38 school teachers at a university vacation school and 100 process workers from local factories. It was felt that the combination of these two groups should represent a sample sufficiently heterogeneous for scale-construction purposes.

The reliability of the 168 items considered as a single scale was .93 (alpha) on the combined group of 138 subjects in the original sample it was .92. This warranted some confidence that the various items had something in common in this sample also.

The 168 item scale was then subjected to an item analysis of the ITRO type (4): each item was correlated with the total score on the scale and those items that correlated most highly were selected. In the present case, the additional constraint was adopted of selecting positive (pro-alienation) and negative (anti-alienation) items in equal balance. The best 20 items according to these criteria formed a General Alienation (GA) scale with a reliability (alpha) of .86 and a correlation between the positive and negative halves (before reverse-scoring) of -. 76.


These 20 items, then, which correlate most highly with the sum total of all the published items that could be found on, alienation, themselves form a scale with high internal consistency and constitute an operational definition of what writers on alienation are in general talking about. Representing as they do the quintessence of the conceptual and item-writing efforts of so many people, they form a scale with exceptional claims to construct validity.

Some data are already available on how well the new scale stands up to replication. In a study of a random sample of 118 residents of the Australian city of Sydney (6, 8), a reliability of .75 was found for the GA scale. The mean (X = 58.85; S.D. 9.46) was obtained with five-point response options for each item and represents probably the best approach to norms for the scale so far. In another study (7) reliabilities for four groups were found as follows: .72 for 54 tennis club members, .75 for 32 shop assistants, .73 for 36 schoolboys, and 75 for a community sample of 43 Lebanese living in Sydney, Australia, who were given an Arabic translation of the scale. These reliabilities generally meet the criteria suggested by Shaw and Wright as making a scale suitable for research use (10).

Following are the items of the GA (reverse-scored items marked "R"):

1 Beneath the polite and smiling surface of man's nature is a bottomless pit of evil.
2. These days a person doesn't really know whom he can count on.
3. Human nature is fundamentally co-operative. R
4. Most people can be trusted. R
5. We are the hollow men, we are the stuffed men, leaning together, headpiece filled with straw.
6. I can normally do what I want to do in today's setup. R
7. The decisions of our courts of justice are as fair to a poor man as to a wealthy man. R
8. Considering everything that is going on these days, things look bright for the younger generation. R
9. Delinquency is not as serious a problem as the papers play it up to be. R
10. For the most part, government serves the interests of a few organized groups, such as business or labor, and isn't very concerned about the needs of people like myself.
11. In spite of what some people say, the lot of the average man is getting worse.
12. Most public officials are not really interested in the problems of the average man.
13. People like me don't have any say about what the government does.
14. It is difficult for people like myself to have much influence in public affairs.
15. Life today is a difficult and dangerous business and it is a matter of chance who gets on top.
16. No one is going to care much what happens to you, when you get right down to it.
17. Most members of Parliament and City Councillors are sympathetic people and do a good job. R
18. In this society, most people can find contentment. R
19. Our community is an easy and pleasant place to live in. R
20. We seem to live in a pretty rational and well-ordered world. R


1. BONJEAN, C.M., HILL, R.J. & McLEMORE, S.D. Continuities in measurement, 1959-1963. Social Forces. 1965, 43, 532-535.

2. DEAN, D. Alienation: Its meaning and measurement. Amer. Sociological Rev. 1961, 26, 753-758.

3. OLSEN, M.E. Two categories of political alienation. Social Forces. 1969, 47, 288-299.

4. RAY, J.J. (1972) A new reliability maximization procedure for Likert scales. Australian Psychologist 7, 40-46.

5. RAY, J.J. (1974) Who are the alienated? Ch. 52 in Ray, J.J. (Ed.) Conservatism as heresy Sydney: A.N.Z. Book Co.

6. RAY, J.J. (1974) Are the workers authoritarian, conservative or both? Ch. 43 in Ray, J.J. (Ed.) Conservatism as heresy Sydney: A.N.Z. Book Co.

7. RAY, J.J. (1981) Is the Ned Kelly syndrome dead? Some Australian data on attitudes to shoplifting. Australian & New Zealand J. Criminology 14, 249-252.

8. RAY, J.J. (1973) Dogmatism in relation to sub-types of conservatism: Some Australian data. European J. Social Psychology 3, 221-232.

9. RAY, J.J. & SUTTON, A.J. (1972) Alienation in an Australian University. Journal of Social Psychology, 86, 319-320.

10. SHAW, M. E. & WRIGHT J. M. Scales for the Measurement of Attitudes. N.Y.: McGraw Hill, 1967.

School of Sociology, The University of New South Wales, P.O. Box 1, Kensington, N.S.W., Australia 2033

*Received in the Editorial Office on July 2nd., 1982, and published immediately at Provincetown, Massachusetts. Copyright by The Journal Press.


Replication is one of the cornerstones of science. A new research result will normally require replication by later researchers before the truth and accuracy of the observation concerned is generally accepted. If a result is to be replicated, however, careful specification of the original research procedure is important.

In questionnaire research it has been my observation that the results are fairly robust as to questionnaire format. It is the content of the question that matters rather than how the question is presented (But see here and here). It is nonetheless obviously desirable for an attempted replication to follow the original procedure as closely as possible so I have given here samples of how I presented my questionnaires in most of the research I did. On all occasions, respondents were asked to circle a number to indicate their response.

The response options for each item in the present article were: Strongly Agree, Agree, Not Sure, Disagree, Strongly Agree. For items marked 'R', these responses were scored 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 respectively. For items not so marked, the same responses were scored 5, 4, 3. 2 and 1 respectively. The scale score is the sum of the item scores.

Other papers on alienation that may be of interest are as under:

Ray, J.J. (1984) Alienation, dogmatism and acquiescence. J. Clinical Psychology 40, 1007-1008.

Ray, J.J. (1987) Radicalism and alienation. Journal of Social Psychology 127, 219-220.

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