Academic journal article North American Journal of Psychology

A Psychometric Evaluation of Existing Attitude Measures toward Capital Punishment and War

Academic journal article North American Journal of Psychology

A Psychometric Evaluation of Existing Attitude Measures toward Capital Punishment and War

Article excerpt

Two existing attitude measures: Attitude Toward Capital Punishment and Attitude Toward War were administered to 105 student participants at a California university. The primary goal was to re-establish modern psychometric properties for these two instruments. A 5-point scale was used instead of the 2-point scale originally used in both scales. Using Cronbach's reliability coefficient and factor analysis, the two instruments were found to have reliabilities of .79 and .83 respectively. Item analyses were performed and shorter and more reliable measures were found. The factor analysis of the Attitude Toward Capital Punishment scale yielded a 3-factor solution. The factor analysis of the Attitude Toward War scale showed the existence of a general factor. This research shows that these older instruments can still be useful for current research purposes. A shortened version of each scale was found to have a higher reliability than the original.


Recent news articles and editorials, along with the popularity of blogs and websites (e.g., Cohen, 2007, Dutta, 2007, Lefever, 2007, Rosenberg, 2007,, have spurred renewed interest on the attitude of people toward capital punishment and war. Some have expressed the opinion that people are no longer strongly in favor of capital punishment or war. (see Unnever, Cullen & Roberts, 2005 for recent statistics on attitudes toward capital punishment). Most of these reports are based on editorials and not empirical scientific research. To establish the validity of these apparent trends, empirical research needs to be conducted.

In order to properly study and more accurately determine the attitudes of people toward war and capital punishment, reliable and valid measuring instruments are needed. Some researchers may be tempted to create a new instrument for this purpose. For example, O'Neil, Patry & Penrod (2004) have conducted such a study and developed a 59-item scale for this purpose. McKelvie (2006) also developed an 18-item scale for the purpose of conducting research on capital punishment. This long and tedious process may not be necessary since there are existing measures of attitudes on war and capital punishment (see Lester, 1994a, 1994b; Shaw & Wright, 1967). These existing measures can be used by collecting new data using these instruments to determine if the psychometric properties of reliability and validity are technically sound. McKelvie (2006) reports that his scale was based on the 24-item Attitude Toward Capital Punishment scale presented in Shaw & Wright (1967). Shaw & Wright (1956) reported a test-retest reliability of .71 for this scale.

In the current study, the authors' retrieved two scales (1) Attitude Toward Capital Punishment and (2) Attitude Toward War from Shaw & Wright (1967) where inadequate or no reliability data were available. The goal of this study was to re-examine the reliability of the two scales and other pertinent psychometric properties. The study was not done to make statements about attitudes toward capital punishment or toward war. The major emphasis is only on the measurement of these attitudes. A factor analysis was done on each scale to determine if each has an underlying structure useful for research purposes.



One hundred and five volunteer participants were recruited amongst undergraduate and graduate students at a west coast university. There were 57 females and 37 males that reported their gender. Eleven participants did not specify a gender. Their ages ranged from 19 to 41 years. Thirty-nine of the participants stated that they were white, 37 stated they were Latino, 24 were Asian or Pacific Islander and 4 stated they were black. One participant declined to cite a racial/ethnic category. Seventy-nine stated they were born in the United States and 25 reported they were foreign born.


The participants were asked to complete two attitude scales. …

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