Are they really that happy? Exploring scale recalibration in estimates of well-being

  • Heather Lacey
  • Angela Fagerlin
  • Loewenstein G
  • Dylan Smith
  • Riis J
  • Peter Ubel

Objective: The authors addressed a lingering concern in research on hedonic adaptation to adverse circumstances. This research typically relies on self-report measures of well-being, which are subjective and depend on the standards that people use in making judgments. The authors employed a novel method to test for, and rule out, such scale recalibration in self-reports of well-being. Design: The authors asked patients with chronic illness (either lung disease or diabetes) and nonpatients to evaluate quality of life (QoL) for the patients' disease. In addition, the authors also asked them to rank and rate the aversiveness of a diverse set of adverse circumstances, allowing examination of both the numerical ratings and ordering among items. Main Outcome Measures: The authors compared patients' and nonpatients' ratings and rankings for the patients' disease and other conditions. Results and Conclusion: The authors found that patients not only assigned higher numerical QoL ratings to their own disease than did nonpatients but also ranked it higher among the broad set of conditions. These results suggest that scale recalibration cannot account for discrepant QoL ratings between patients and nonpatients. More generally, this study presents a new approach for measuring well-being that is not subject to the problem of scale recalibration.

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