May 22, 2010

New light on the origin of the scaling question - 'The Cantril Self-Anchoring Striving Scale'

In solution-focused circles, it is often assumed that the scaling question first emerged from the work of the Brief Family Therapy Center of Steve de Shazer, Insoo Kim berg and their colleagues. However, Michael Klingenstierna Hjerth mentioned something interesting on his Facebook page, which sheds a different light on the origin of the scaling question. He quotes a Gallup article which explains that an intervention called 'The Cantril Self-Anchoring Striving Scale' (Cantril, 1965) has been used since the 1960's and is a favorite of Daniel Kahneman.The Gallup article describes the technique as follows:
  • Imagine a ladder with steps numbered from zero at the bottom to 10 at the top.
  • The top of the ladder represents the best possible life for you and the bottom of the ladder represents the worst possible life for you.
  • On which step of the ladder would you say you personally feel you stand at this time? (ladder-present)
  • On which step do you think you will stand about five years from now? (ladder-future)
Michael adds: "Good ideas are sometimes discovered independently, and to study and learn from the different versions of the idea is a great exercise".

Question: Does anyone reading this have the original publication by Cantril? The full reference is: Cantril, H. (1965). The pattern of human concerns. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press. I'd be interested to read the intervention was precisely described in this publication.

By the way, the solution-focused scaling questions as they have developed through the years look very similar but they do have some additional elements in comparison with the Cantril scale. Read my article: Solution-Focused Scaling Questions.


  1. Very interesting, thanks for posting!
    I was not aware of the Cantril paper, sorry I cannot be or more help...

  2. Coert,

    I think ideas can definitely be discovered independently. I first heard of scaling back in early 2000 when reading about phobia treatments. They called the scale Subjective Units of Distress and often used a 1-10 or a 0-10 scale.


  3. I agree: ideas can definitely be discovered independently. Good ideas often emerge at the same time at different places. Often, the time seems right

  4. Hi Coert

    I am not surprised by this - people have been using scales from 1-10 for ages, as for instance in the Bo Derek/Dudley Moore film '10' from the early 1980s. What is different in SF practice is the WAY the scale is used - in particular the focus on 'how come it's that high' - which does not seem to be present in the Cantril scale as you decribe it.


  5. Hi Coert, Mark, friends,

    the cantril scale can be used like that in research. To find out how come some people are happy.

    It is not the same use as in SF, though, since the values are, for reaserch reasons, regarded as comparable. My 7 is comparable to your 7. In SF scales are used like a single case study from which no general conclusions can be drawn. It is valid only in this particular case. There are shades of objective values in them though. People, on average, tend to think that 7-8 are "good enough" for coaching/therapy to be finished. And 1, is in general thought of as a good size for a step. And I suspect this is a more or less objective property of the language, mathematics, and the embodied cognition behind the scale and step metaphor.

    The Cantril scale is a scientific tool for measuring life satisfaction, and it is probably as objective as it gets. Even though it is more complex sometimes, mountain-climbers are happy when they think about their life, even though they are mostly miserable in each given instance. (climbing the mountain is painful and sucks, not climbing the mountain is boring and suck. Life as a mountain climber though, is great. So you can be happy about life, even you are not happy in life. Kahneman has some really nice studies about the difference between the experiencing self and the remembering/imaging self.

    That little excursion aside. SF scaling is very sofisticated and intricate and could be of interest to social scientists. The good thing about the Cantril scale is that is a objective tool, that can be a link from SF to all sorts of scientific studies and results.


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