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Well-being scaled by personal memory

/ 05:05 AM September 28, 2019

When asked by an emergency-room doctor how much pain I feel, on a scale of 1 to 10, the highest number I’ve ever given was 4. That was when I shattered an upper arm in a bad fall, carelessly slipping in the rain. My left humerus broke into three pieces. They are now joined by a 12-inch titanium splint with 12 screws.

Measuring well-being is supposed to be my special field; but being the one in pain, and not an observer, I didn’t quibble about the doctor’s scale—to ask if there should be a zero for those in no pain, and what does number 10 mean? I think I answered quickly so as not to get in the doctor’s way, and conservatively, to avoid being unfairly prioritized. In short, I interpreted the question my own way, with my own scale, and left it to the doctor to interpret my answer.

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Actually, Social Weather Stations prefers scales using words over those using numbers. We also prefer short scales to long ones. For example, for “Satisfaction with Present Life as a Whole,” we use a 4-point answer-scale: very satisfied, fairly satisfied, fairly dissatisfied, and very dissatisfied. This is a common scale in European surveys.

But ever since the Cantril-ladder scale was adopted by the Gallup World Poll, and then became a major input in the annual World Happiness Report (WHR), there’s no avoiding this 11-point scale any more.  In this scale, 0 represents the worst possible life, and 10 represents the best possible life, that survey respondents can imagine for themselves. It is “self-anchored” by the people’s imagination.

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The 2019 WHR, released last March, ranked the Philippines as No. 12 in the world in change in life-evaluation between 2005-08 and 2016-18 (see “PH is 12th in happiness progress,” Opinion, 3/3/19). The Philippine average score in 2016-18 is 5.63, up by 0.86 points from its 2005-08 average of 4.77. Thus, over the last decade, the Philippines moved from just below to just above the 5.0 midpoint, which is half of what the people imagine is the best that could happen to them.

This week, SWS issued a technical report on its second trial of a new well-being scale, also with 11 points, that ranges from what the people remember as the worst, and what they remember as the best, life-experience that they have ever had. This scale goes from -5 at the personal worst end to +5 at the personal best end.

Thus, its midpoint of 0 does not mean half of the personal best; it is simply halfway between the people’s actual worst memories and their actual best memories. Anchoring the end-points on the people’s actual experiences is said to be conceptually more realistic than anchoring them on the people’s imagination.

This new scale is called the Acsa scale, where the first “A” stands for “Anamnestic,” or “based on memory”; it is the opposite of “amnestic,” which means “without memory.” The SWS trial surveys of Acsa are reported in “2017Q4 and 2018Q4 Social Weather Surveys: Anamnestic Comparative Self-Assessment (Acsa) dips from +2.82 to +2.60,” www.sws.org.ph, 9/24/19.

The pilot SWS Acsa survey, in December 2017, found 87 percent of adult Filipinos rating their past two weeks positively, by numbers from +1 to +5; 6 percent rating them neutrally, by the number 0; and 7 percent rating them negatively, by numbers from -1 to -5. The average Acsa rating was +2.82.

The second Acsa survey, done in December 2018, found 86 percent rating their past two weeks positively, 4 percent rating them at 0, and 10 percent rating them negatively. Consequently, the average Acsa was +2.60, or less than in 2017. With only two points so far, let us just say that the Philippine Acsas of 2017 and 2018 are halfway between neutrality and the people’s personal best memories of well-being.

SWS does not believe in using a single indicator for well-being. Our two surveys of Acsa found it consistent with Self-Rated Poverty, hunger and happiness. Acsa is also directly related to socioeconomic class and education.

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TAGS: Gallup World Poll, Social Weather Stations, World Happiness Report
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