Between pleasure and pain
In its 2019 Q4 survey, Social Weather Stations used Anamnestic Comparative Self-Assessment (Acsa) to measure Filipino well-being, for the third time since 2017. Anamnestic means “based on memory”; it is the opposite of amnestic, which means “without memory.”In Acsa, survey respondents are asked to rate their personal well-being at present (i.e. the last two weeks) on a numerical scale between +5, which stands for the best period, and -5, which stands for the worst period, that they remember from their own past. This scale was originally designed by oncologist Jan Bernheim for application to his cancer patients.
The scale was shown to the SWS respondents horizontally, from lowest to highest: -5, -4, -3, -2, -1, 0, +1, +2, +3, +4, +5. It is an 11-point scale, including the 0 point. It is clear to respondents that the negative numbers represent degrees of pain, the positive numbers represent degrees of pleasure, and zero means neither pain nor pleasure. The scale is anchored at either end by the respondent’s best and worst memories of their past life, i.e. it is anchored on factual experiences.
Since 2017, SWS has done three Acsa surveys, in the fourth quarter of each year. The most common response is “3,” midway positive; it was cited by about one-fourth of the respondents, in all three years.
The positive, or pleasant, numbers were cited by 87 percent in 2017, 86 percent in 2018, and again 87 percent in 2019. The zero or neutral answers were 6, 4 and 5 percent respectively. The negative, or painful, responses were 7, 10 and 8 percent; these are proportions of Filipino adults, who are presently some 60 million.
The average Acsa response was 2.82 in 2017Q4, then 2.60 in 2018Q4, and then 2.57 in 2019Q4, i.e. slightly worsening over time. The answers of “+5”—those for whom now is the best time in their memory—were 25 percent in 2017, 20 percent in 2018, and 18 percent in 2019. The answers of “-5”—those for whom now is their worst time ever—were about 1 percent in all three years.
(I reported the earlier Acsa surveys in “Well-Being scaled by personal memory,” Opinion, 9/28/19. For the survey questions in Filipino, see “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 Acsa scores are consistent with other SWS indicators of subjective well-being. In 2019Q4, the average Acsa is +3.18 among those Very Satisfied with life, versus +0.85 among those Not/Not At All Satisfied with it; it is +3.15 among the Very Happy, versus +0.48 among the Not/Not At All Happy. It is +2.83 among the Non-Poor, versus +2.35 among the Self-Rated Poor. It is +2.62 in Non-Hungry families, versus +2.02 among Hungry ones. It is +2.92 among Gainers, versus +1.94 among Losers, in quality of life over the past 12 months.
Let’s compare the Acsa scale to the conventional 0-to-10 life-ladder scale, originally designed by psychologist Hadley Cantril, where 0 is the worst possible life, and 10 is the best possible life, that the respondent can imagine. This is implemented by showing survey respondents a ladder, standing on a base marked 0, with 10 rungs marked 1 to 10. It is an 11-point scale, anchored on either end by a respondent’s best hope and worst fear about what life may bring. The Cantril scale relies on what people can imagine, while the Acsa scale relies on what people have experienced. The two scales do not slide into each other.
Surveys using the Cantril life-ladder, regularly provided worldwide by the Gallup Organization, are the main input to the World Happiness Report (WHR). The 2019 WHR has the Philippine ladder-score at 5.63 for 2016/18, versus 4.77 for 2005/08 (see “PH is 12th in happiness progress,” Opinion, 3/30/19). The top score is 7.77 (Finland), the median is 5.39, and the bottom score is 2.85 (Gabon). Incidentally, the 2020 WHR will be released soon, on 3/20/20, the International Day of Happiness.
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