Rensis Likert


Rensis Likert (/ˈlɪkərt/ LIK-ərt; August 5, 1903, in Cheyenne, Wyoming, US, to September 3, 1981, in Ann Arbor, Michigan) was an American organizational and social psychologist principally known for developing the Likert scale, an approach to creating a psychometrically sound scale based on responses to multiple questions or "items". The scale has become a time-honored way to measure people's thoughts and feelings from opinion surveys to personality tests.

Rensis Likert
Rensis Likert - ISR - December 1961.jpg
Born(1903-08-05)August 5, 1903
DiedSeptember 3, 1981(1981-09-03) (aged 78)
Resting placeForest Hill Cemetery (Ann Arbor, Michigan) (Lot 50, Number 8)
Alma materUniversity of Michigan
Columbia University
University of Michigan
Known forLikert Scale, Likert's Management Systems, Linking pin model
Spouse(s)Jane Gibson Likert

In 1926, Likert earned a B.A. in Economics and Sociology from the University of Michigan; in 1932 he earned a Ph.D. in Psychology from Columbia University. He went on to work for the U.S. Department of Agriculture until 1946. During World War II, Likert transitioned to working for the Office of War Information (OWI).[1] At the OWI, he was appointed head of the United States Strategic Bombing Survey Morale Division (USSBS) in 1944.[1]

After retiring at the age of 67, he formed Rensis Likert Associates, an institution that based its ideas on his theories of management in organizational psychology. He wrote many books about management, conflict, and behavioral research applications. His works include "Human Organization: Its Management and Value" (1967) and "New Ways of Managing Conflict" (1976). Likert also founded the theory of participative management, used to engage employees in the workplace and ultimately let them enjoy their jobs more. Likert's contributions in psychometrics, research samples, and more (including open-ended interviewing) have helped form and shape current social and organizational psychology.

Early life and personal lifeEdit

Rensis Likert was born in 1903 to George Herbert Likert and Cornelia Adrianna (Cora) Likert in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Influenced by his father, an engineer with the Union Pacific Railroad, Likert studied civil engineering at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor for three years. He worked as an intern with the Union Pacific Railroad during the watershed 1922 strike, which sparked his interest in studying organizational behavior.

Likert switched from studying civil engineering to economics and sociology at the University of Michigan, because of an influential professor Robert Angell. Likert received a B.A. in sociology in 1926. Upon graduation, he studied at the Union Theological Seminary for a year. He then went on to earn a Ph.D. in psychology at Columbia University in 1932.[2] While studying at Columbia University, he approached the discipline of social psychology, a nascent field at the time. Amidst his work, he co-authored a book, "Public Opinion and the Individual" (1938) with his mentor at Columbia, Gardner Murphy.

Likert married Jane Gibson while at Columbia University; they had met at the University of Michigan.[2] They had two daughters: Elizabeth and Patricia.[3] In 1969, Likert retired as Director of the Institute for Social Research.[3] He and his wife moved to Honolulu, Hawaii, where he continued with his work by forming Rensis Likert Associates. Likert died at 78 years of age on September 3, 1981, in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He was survived by his wife, Jane Gibson (3 June 1902 – 19 November 1997).


Life Insurance Agency Management AssociationEdit

In 1935, Likert became Director of Research for the Life Insurance Agency Management Association (LIAMA) in Hartford, Connecticut. While there, Likert began a research program to compare and evaluate the effectiveness of different modes of supervision.[4]

United States Department of AgricultureEdit

In 1939, Likert was invited to organize the Division of Program Surveys (DPS) at the Bureau of Agriculture Statistics (BAS). Its purpose was to gather farmers' thoughts about USDA-sponsored New Deal programs and to confront the effects of the Great Depression. Soon after, program surveys were used in other government agencies during WWII, such as the U.S. Treasury Department, the Federal Reserve Board, the Office of War Information, and the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey. Likert continued to recruit other social psychologists into his growing government survey department.[5]

During World War II, as Director of the Program Surveys Division in the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Bureau of Agricultural Economics (B.A.E.), Likert ran surveys first for U.S.D.A. But, as the war progressed, the Division ran surveys for many different government agencies including the Office of War Information, the U.S. Department of the Treasury, the Federal Reserve Board, and, in 1944–45, the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey. In 1943, he developed the first national geographic sampling frame. Likert, although not at a university at the time, was actively recruiting other social psychologists into his expanding government survey shop during the war.

Institute for Social ResearchEdit

After the end of the war, the Department of Agriculture was forced by conservative Congressmen to stop its social survey work. Likert and his team (many of them academics on temporary wartime duty) decided to move together to a university. After scouting Cornell and Chicago, they accepted an offer in the summer of 1946 from the University of Michigan.[6] They formed the Survey Research Center (SRC) at the University of Michigan. This became the Institute for Social Research (ISR) in 1949 when Dorwin Cartwright moved the Center for Group Dynamics from MIT to the University of Michigan.[7] Likert was the director of ISR until 1970 when he retired.

Rensis Likert AssociatesEdit

Upon retirement, Likert founded Rensis Likert Associates to consult for numerous corporations. He also helped start what is now known as the Institute for Corporate Productivity. During his tenure at the Institute for Corporate Productivity, Likert devoted particular attention to research on organizations. During the 1960s and 1970s, his books on management theory were closely studied in Japan and their impact can be seen across modern Japanese organizations. He completed research on major corporations around the world, and his studies have accurately predicted the subsequent performance of the corporations.[8]


Open-ended interviewingEdit

Likert contributed to the field of psychometrics by developing open-ended interviewing, a technique used to collect information about a person's thoughts, experiences, and preferences. It was common in the 1930s for researchers to use objective, closed-ended questions for the coding process to be valid. While this technique was used well in many domains, Likert saw the need for more opportunities to ask people about their attitudes towards various issues. Within open-ended interviewing, he and his colleagues invented the "funneling technique", which is a way to keep the interview open for comments, but directed in a specific way. The interview would begin with open-ended questions but gradually move into more narrowed questions. Today, open-ended interviewing is largely used in research studies where there is a need to understand people's attitudes.

Likert scaleEdit

Likert's method of creating the Likert scale is Rensis Likert's best-known contribution. Likert created the method in 1932 as part of his Ph.D. thesis to identify the extent of a person's attitudes and feelings towards international affairs.[9] The Likert scale is useful in conducting surveys, with applications to business-related areas such as marketing or customer satisfaction, the social sciences, and attitude-related research projects.

A Likert scale consists of the sum or average of scores from responses to a group of survey questions ("items"). Those individual-item scores are combined into a scale score according to specific psychometric methods.[10][11]

Management systemsEdit

Likert's management systems are management styles developed by Rensis Likert in the 1950s.[12][13] He outlined four systems of management to describe the relationship, involvement, and roles of managers and subordinates in industrial settings. The four management systems are:

  1. Exploitative Authoritative
  2. Benevolent Authoritative
  3. Consultative System
  4. Participative System.

Professional achievementsEdit


The following are books that Rensis Likert authored, or contributed to [16]

  • A Method for Coping with Conflict in Problem Solving Groups (1978)
  • New Ways of Managing Conflict (1976) (with Jane Gibson Likert)
  • Human Organization : Its Management and Value (1967)
  • New Patterns of Management (1961)
  • The Presidents Column (1959)
  • Developing patterns in management (American Management Association, 1955)
  • Technique for the Measurement of Professional Attitudes (1932) [17]


  • Some applications of Behavioral Research (1957)
  • Moral and Agency Management (1940-1944) [17]
  • Public Opinion and the Individual (1938)


  1. ^ a b c Capshew, James (13 January 1999). Psychologists on the March. Cambridge: Cambridge. ISBN 0-521-56585-5.
  2. ^ a b "Memorial | Faculty History Project". Retrieved 2016-04-17.
  3. ^ a b c "Obituaries". Retrieved 2016-04-17.
  4. ^ Witzel, Morgen (2005). Encyclopedia of History of American Management. Bristol BS1 5RR, England: Thoemmes. p. 329. ISBN 1843711311.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location (link)
  5. ^ Kish, Leslie. "Rensis Likert: Social Scientist and Entrepreneur" (PDF). AgEconSearch. Retrieved 18 April 2016.
  6. ^ Kish, Leslie. "Rensis Likert: Social Scientist and Entrepreneur" (PDF). AgEconSearch. Retrieved 18 April 2016.
  7. ^ a b c "Rensis Likert". Britannica Online Encyclopedia. Retrieved 18 April 2016.
  8. ^ Mehta, Amitabh (Dec 1, 2009). Organisation Development. New Delhi: Global India Publications. p. 156. ISBN 9789380228273.
  9. ^ Likert, Rensis (1932). "A technique for the measurement of attitudes". Archives of Psychology: 1–55.
  10. ^ Spector, Paul E (1992). Summated Rating Scale Construction. Sage.
  11. ^ Warmbrod, J Robert (2014). "Reporting and Interpreting Scores Derived from Likert-type Scales" (PDF). Journal of Agricultural Education. 55 (5): 30–47. doi:10.5032/jae.2014.05030. Retrieved March 16, 2020.
  12. ^ Likert, Developing patterns in management (1955).
  13. ^ John W. Hall, "A comparison of Halpin and Croft's organizational climates and Likert and Likert's organizational systems," Administrative Science Quarterly (1972) 17#4 pp 586-590.
  14. ^ "Rensis Likert: Creator of Organizations | Amstat News". September 2010.
  15. ^ "ASA Fellows List". Retrieved 2022-01-10.
  16. ^ Rensis Likert Summary.
  17. ^ a b Kish, Leah. "The Memorian: Rensis Likert". The American Statistician. JSTOR 2684023. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)

Further readingEdit

  • Brewer, J. D. (1968). Review of The Human Organization. American Sociological Review, 33(5), 825-826
  • Converse, Jean M. (1987) Survey Research in the United States: Roots and Emergence 1890-1960 (U of California Press)
  • Effrat, A. (1968). Review: Democratizing and Producing. Science, 162(3859), 1260–1261.
  • Hall, J. W. (1972). A Comparison of Halpin and Croft's Organizational Climates and Likert and Likert's Organizational Systems. Administrative Science Quarterly, 17(4), 586–590.
  • Huczynski, A.A. and Buchanan, D.A. (2007). Organizational Behaviour. 6th Edition, Pearson Education.the