When liking and disliking aren’t opposites

By Gordon Rugg

Treating liking and disliking as opposite ends of the same scale looks so obvious that few people ever think about it. They’ve been viewed as opposites since at least Classical times, when Catullus wrote about the paradox of loving and hating the same person. However, this approach doesn’t actually work very well when you try applying it systematically in contexts like surveys or evaluation or market research. There are usually pros and cons that you’re asking the respondent to compress down into a single number, and respondents usually don’t look very happy about it.

So what happens if you instead try treating liking and disliking as two separate scales? The answer is that it gives you a lot of powerful new insights, because liking and disliking are often not opposites.

Here’s one way of doing it. It’s a more detailed description of an approach that I wrote about here.

With this approach, you first ask the person to rate how much they like the thing in question. The image below shows one way of doing this, using a visual analogue scale. The person does the rating by drawing a vertical line at the point corresponding to their answer, on the line running from “not at all” to “completely”.

You can now measure how far along this line is, giving you a number for how much they like the thing in question.

Now, you repeat the question with an identical scale, only this time, you ask them to show on the scale how much they dislike the thing in question.

In a simple world, you’d expect a person’s rating for how much they like something to balance out their rating for how much they dislike it. However, what you actually see is often different. When you ask people to talk you through the reasoning behind their responses, it starts to make a new type of sense.

The image below shows some classic patterns that you see when you use this approach. I’ve used fictitious data in the image for clarity.

For product A (blue triangles) the scores are very low on liking and also on disliking; the product is perceived as boring, with nothing particularly bad or good going for it.

For product B (black squares) the scores are high both on liking and disliking. There can be various reasons for this.

Sometimes, the thing being evaluated has some very good features but also some different very bad features.

Sometimes, a feature is perceived as both very good in some ways and very bad in others; for instance, a large car may be perceived as good because it has plenty of leg room and storage space, but bad because its size makes it difficult to park in town.

For product C (green circles) the scores are split between “high like/low dislike” and “low like, high dislike”. The classic example in the UK is Marmite, which tends to evoke “love it or hate it” responses from different people.

From a practical viewpoint, the advantage of showing responses this way is that it lets you see quickly and easily what you need to do.

For product A, which is neither particularly liked nor disliked, something needs to be added.

For product B, which produces high scores for liking and for disliking, something needs to be removed; you need to find out what is producing the high scores for dislike, and remove it if possible.

For product C, which produces the “Marmite response” you need to leave the product untouched, and to focus instead on marketing it to the customers who love it.

A common pattern is that the responses to an early version of a product are medium on liking, but high on disliking.

In this case, you need to find out what is causing the dislike, and to fix it. Often, this involves basic hygiene factors; unglamorous, unexciting, but usually simple and easy to fix.

You then need to find out what would cause people to like it more. One approach is to use elicitation techniques such as think-aloud and laddering, in case people can accurately tell you what would make them like it more. Another is to use idea generation techniques such as constraint relaxation, which I’ve written about here.


So, sometimes concepts which look like opposites are actually not opposites, and uncoupling them from each other can give you new insights into old problems. Liking and disliking aren’t the only pair of concepts that are usually treated as opposites, but which actually make more sense treated as separate dimensions.

In this article, I’ve looked at the practical implications of applying this approach to evaluation of products, services, etc, where it offers a quick, powerful and practical way of getting new insights into what customers and clients actually think.

In the next article, I’ll look at the underlying theory for this approach, and apply it to perceptions of beauty, ugliness and threat.

Notes, references and links

You’re welcome to use Hyde & Rugg copyleft images for any non-commercial purpose, including lectures, provided that you state that they’re copyleft Hyde & Rugg.

There’s more about the theory behind this article in my latest book: Blind Spot, by Gordon Rugg with Joseph D’Agnese. http://www.amazon.co.uk/Blind-Spot-Gordon-Rugg/dp/0062097903

You might also find our website useful: http://www.hydeandrugg.com/

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5 thoughts on “When liking and disliking aren’t opposites

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