Positive, negative, and bipolar questions: The effect of question polarity on ratings of text readability


  • Naomi Kamoen Tilburg University and Utrecht University
  • Bregje Holleman Utrecht University
  • Huub van den Bergh Utrecht University
  • Ted Sanders Utrecht University




contrastive questions, bipolar questions, wording effects, generalizability, reliability


For decades, survey researchers have known that respondents give different answers to attitude questions worded positively (X is good. Agree-Disagree), negatively (X is bad. Agree-Disagree) or on a bipolar scale (X is bad-good). This makes survey answers hard to interpret, especially since findings on exactly how the answers are affected are conflicting. In the current paper, we present twelve studies in which the effect of question polarity was measured for a set of thirteen contrastive adjectives. In each study, the same adjectives were used so the generalizability of wording effects across studies could be examined for each word pair. Results show that for five of the word pairs an effect of question wording can be generalized. The direction of these effects are largely consistent: respondents generally give the same answers to positive and bipolar questions, but they are more likely to disagree with negative questions than to agree with positive questions or to choose the positive side of the bipolar scale. In other words, respondents express their opinions more positively when the question is worded negatively. Even though answers to the three wording alternatives sometimes differ, results also show that reliable answers can be obtained with all three wording alternatives. So, for survey practice, these results suggest that all three wording alternatives may be used for attitude measurement.




How to Cite

Kamoen, N., Holleman, B., van den Bergh, H., & Sanders, T. (2013). Positive, negative, and bipolar questions: The effect of question polarity on ratings of text readability. Survey Research Methods, 7(3), 181–189. https://doi.org/10.18148/srm/2013.v7i3.5034