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Measuring Contemptuousness: The  Dispositional Contempt Scale 

Tuesday, August 2, 2016
posted by Rita Handrich

contempt from lie to meYou know contempt when you see it (usually) and you know contempt when you feel it (almost always). But what does contempt look like according to researchers? They call it

“an emotional reaction when a person or a group violates one’s standards and one looks down on them with the tendency to distance and/or derogate them”.

That’s not a very user-friendly definition—so, the free dictionary website says contempt is “disapproval tinged with disgust”. And that sounds more like what we’ve all experienced when someone looks at us with contempt (or vice versa).

So today’s researchers set out to build a scale that would measure contempt by completing six different experiments (with sample sizes ranging from 165 to 1,368) to develop the scale—which ended up including only ten questions (shown in graphic below which was pulled from the article itself.

As the researchers developed the scale, they completed six separate experiments. In each experiment, they learned things to help hone the scale to the final ten-item measure. Here is a summary of what they learned in each of the six experiments.

Experiment 1: Dispositional contempt was related to and yet distinct from similar emotional dispositions such as “envy, anger, and hubristic pride” but was found to be mostly unrelated to disgust.

Experiment 2: Dispositional contempt was related to each component of the Dark Tetrad (narcissism, psychopathy, Machiavellianism, and sadism).

Experiments 3 and 4: Showed them that contempt-prone people had low attachment security. In other words, those who were contemptuous tended to avoid attachment and have anxiety.

Experiment 5: Those who were prone to contempt were more likely to respond contemptuously (go figure) to film clips of individuals violating various standards. While average contempt rating was highest for moral failures, dispositional contempt was most predictive of contempt in response to another’s incompetence and was negatively associated with reacting compassionately.

Experiment 6: Dispositional contempt was a unique predictor of relationship functioning. While the researchers thought if someone was toxic, that would be a death knell for one’s relationship—what the data showed was that seeing one’s partner as contemptuous was more harmful and resulted in less commitment and satisfaction in the relationship.

contempt scaleThe researchers think their findings offer many practical paths for further research, including research that explores reducing contemptuousness through various interventions. What they saw is that contemptuousness reduces mental and behavioral flexibility, decreases self-esteem, limits the social network, increases loneliness and depression, unhinges romantic relationships, and results in a lack of caring for others. Interventions to reduce contemptuousness, should reverse all those negative effects of dispositional contempt.

From a litigation advocacy perspective, this is an intriguing tool for use in pretrial research.

Are there specific questions on this scale that would be more predictive of ultimate verdict on specific kinds of cases?

How would an attitude expressed through these scale items predispose someone regarding my case or my client?

It’s an intriguing concept to ponder. We know contempt is a powerful weapon when wielded interpersonally. The question is if the “contempt-prone individual” is identifiable in some way other than through the use of a 10-item scale? We’ll work on that one.

Schriber, R., Chung, J., Sorensen, K., & Robins, R. (2016). Dispositional Contempt: A First Look at the Contemptuous Person. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology DOI: 10.1037/pspp0000101


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