The ACL - Assessment Scales

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Assess psychological traits with a full sphere of descriptive adjectives

Harrison G. Gough & Alfred B. Heilbrun, Jr.

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Assessment Scales

Modus Operandi - Four scales assessing ways in which the respondent has approached the task of describing self or others

Number Checked

The total number of adjectives checked


The number of socially desirable) adjectives checked


The number of unfavorable (socially undesirable) adjectives checked


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Correspondence of responses to the pattern of checking typically found among people-in-general

Need Scales - Fifteen scales assessing psychological needs or wants identified as important in Henry A. Murray’s need-press theory of personality


To strive to be outstanding in pursuits of socially recognized significance


To seek and maintain a role as leader in groups, or to be influential and controlling in individual relationships


To persist in any task undertaken


To place special emphasis on neatness, organization, and planning in one's activities


To engage in attempts to understand one's own behavior or the behavior of others


To engage in behaviors that provide material or emotional benefits to others


To seek and maintain numerous personal friendships


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To seek the company of and derive emotional satisfaction from interactions with opposite-sex peers


To behave in such a way as to elicit the immediate attention of others


To act independently of others or of social values and expectations


To engage in behaviors that attack or hurt others


To seek novelty of experience and avoid routine


To solicit sympathy, affection, or emotional support from others


To express feelings of inferiority through self-criticism, guilt, or social impotence


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To seek and maintain subordinate roles in relationships with others

Topical scales - Nine scales assessing a diverse set of attributes, potentialities, and role characteristics

Counseling Readiness

Readiness to accept counseling or professional advice in regard to personal problems, psychological difficulties and the like


The extent to which self-control is imposed, and valued


Self-confidence, poise, and self-assurance

Personal Adjustment

Good adjustment in the sense of the ability to cope with situational and interpersonal demands, and a feeling of efficacy

Ideal Self

Strong sense of personal worth; or, harmony between what one is and what one wants to be

Creative Personality

The desire to do and think differently from the norm, and a talent for originality

Military Leader

Steadiness, self-discipline, and good judgment of the kind required in positions of military (or related) leadership


Role-qualities such as ambition, assertiveness, and initiative associated with everyday notions of masculinity


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Role-qualities such as helpfulness, sympathy, and affection associated with everyday notions of femininity

Transactional Analysis - Five scales, an Egogram, assessing components of ego functioning from the Transactional Analysis (TA) theory of personality developed by Eric Berne

Critical Parent

Attitudes of evaluation, severity, and skepticism associated with the concept of a "critical parent"

Nurturing Parent

Attitudes of support, stability, and acceptance associated with the concept of a "nurturing parent"


Attitudes of independence, objectivity, and industriousness associated with the concept of a "mature adult"

Free Child

Attitudes of playfulness, impulsivity, and self-centeredness associated with the concept of a "free" or very expressive child

Adapted Child

Attitudes of deference, conformity, and self-discipline associated with the concept of an "adapted" or very dutiful child

Origence-intellectence - Four scales assessing the balance between preferences for affective-emotional and rational-realistic modes of functioning from George Welsh’s structural dimensions of personality

High Origence -
Low Intellectence

Feelings and emotion (high origence) valued more highly than detachment and rationality (low intellectence). High scores suggest informality, vitality, and playfulness

High Origence -
High Intellectence

High value place on both affect (origence) and rationality (intellectence). High scores suggest versatility, unconventionality, and individuality

Low Origence -
Low Intellectence

No particular value placed on either origence or intellectence. High scores suggest contentment, conventionality, and optimism

Low Origence -
High Intellectence

Rationality and analysis (intellectence) valued more highly than feelings and emotion (origence). High scores suggest logicality, industriousness, and cognitive clarity

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Uses of the ACL

Self Description

The most frequent application of the ACL is to obtain self-descriptions. The self-description method typically generates the thirty-seven scales in the ACL profile.

Descriptions from Observers

The ACL is used to describe individuals who have been interviewed or observed in specific situations. For example, one is asked to describe significant others (spouse, parent, child, etc.) or persons they have observed in various situations or roles. The method could be used, for example, to compare the manner in which well-known politicians are perceived by their public.

Self and Observer

If both self description and other description are obtained, a comparison can be made between the different perspectives.  The ACL manual describes several indexes such as Insight that can be derived from this method. For example, with the Intropunitiveness index, low scores are self-enhancing and high scores are self-detracting.

Assessing the Ideal Self

The real self reflects immediate circumstances, experiences, and self characterization.  The ideal self relates to the future by setting goals to which the individual aspires.  A number of researchers have looked at these differing perspectives and the implications in, for example, client centered counseling, personal adjustment, occupational groups, and gender.

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The ACL can be used in researching cultural archetypes, those individuals whom society has identified as instrumental in the shaping of its history and who have become psychological models of what society admires or what it rejects.  An example can be seen in D.K. Simonton, Presidential Personality: Biographical Use of the Gough Adjective Check List. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1986, 51, 149-160.

Environmental and Consumer Psychology

The item pool can be used to characterize a variety of non-person concepts which, nevertheless, can be meaningfully personified.  One example was the use of the ACL to study environmental topics in which a class in introductory psychology described the cities of Rome and Paris.  Another example was to describe Fiat and Volkswagen automobiles.

Descriptions of Stereotypes

The ACL has frequently been used in studies of stereotypes and beliefs. Some studies have been applied to beliefs about men, women, persons in particular occupations and professions and even specialties within professions such as medical specialties.  Clinical categories have been described by the ACL such as one study in which more-experienced and less-experienced therapists were asked to characterize a typical female schizophrenic patient.

Gender Roles

The ACL was selected as the gender role measurement in an large international study as documented in Measuring Sex Steroeotypes: A multinational study (1990) by John E. Williams and Deborah L. Best:  “This book reports the results of an extensive cross-cultural research project. Our objectives were to identify the beliefs commonly held in many cultures about the psychological characteristics associated with men and women and to examine these sex-trait stereotypes for evidence of cross-national similarities and differences.” (Preface)

Cross-Cultural Applications

The ACL is available in a number of languages (see complete list here) and a number of studies have used the ACL to describe cultural differences. A good example is

J.E. Williams, R.C. Satterwhite, & J.L. Saiz, 1998. The Importance of Psychological Traits: A Cross-Cultural Study. New York: Plenum Press

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