The Negativity-Positivity Scale: How Many Levels Do We Need?


This blog post discusses my new negativity-positivity scale, and deals with the issue of how to divide it. On this scale, how many different levels of negativity and positivity is theoretically and practically possible or useful to have?

KEYWORDS: Core Emotional Energy, human behavior, human character, negativity-positivity spectrum, personality types, philosophy of science, positive psychology, positivity scale.

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This blog post continues my discussion around the “Core Emotional Energy” concept and its new “negativity-and-positivity” scale that I have talked about in a couple of previous posts (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3).

Today it’s time to explore it in detail, to try to determine how many levels we want in this “scale” or “spectrum”.

How Many Levels?

So the basic question is: how many levels do we need? The answer to that question depends on what we mean by “need”.

I am stressing the reading of “need” because I know how many scientists and academics are thinking: “we need to be precise, we need to scientific, we need to be able to have exact measurements, etc.” And following that path would suggest that we want many levels (in fact, an endless number of levels to be able to provide scientific accuracy).

So although I am aware of this type of “scientific” theory-making, I am not really considering it for my purposes here, when it comes to my “negativity-positivity” spectrum or scale.

There are several reasons for this. One reason is simply that my theory here is not really targeting scientists. It’s a theory for practical everyday use by “ordinary” people, for the purpose of helping them to identify where they are at, in their emotional development.

Another reason I want to limit the number of “levels” is this. Regardless of how many psychologists and sociologists who have published bold papers and books about how “scientific” or “exact” the humanistic sciences are, or can be (in the future), the current truth of the matter, as I understand it, is that it is hard to be exact when it comes to measuring human behavior.

So the conclusion must be, from my perspective at least, that we must have a rather “coarse” scale, with as few levels as possible. By doing so, we do not signal that we are more exact than what we in principle can be; and by having just a few levels we will have a practical scale to use in one’s daily life.

How Many Are “a Few” Levels?

So then the question is: how many levels are “a few” or “as few as possible”?

My initial answer to that question is “half a dozen or so”. I have played around with it for some time, and I think it feels “usable”, in terms of assessing a person’s emotional whereabouts.

So what I am having in mind is a system where we have two “halves”: one “negative” half, and one “positive” half. And on each of these two halves we have three levels,  labeled 1, 2, 3.

This gives us the following scale: “N3, N2, N1” for the negative half, and “P1, P2, P3” for the positive half. So six labels altogether.

What Do These Levels Mean?

It is important here to note that the numbering is referring to the “strength” or “intensity” of the emotion. So a “1” would be less “strong” or “intense” than a “2” or “3”.

For example, an “N3” individual would be more negative than an “N2” person; and an “N1” person would be less negative than an “N2” individual.

Similarly, on the positive end of the spectrum, a “P3” person would be more positive than a “P2” individual; and a “P1” person would be less positive than a “P2” individual;

Also, we can compare levels from the positive “half” with levels from the negative “half”: a “P1” is more positive than an “N1”; a “P2” is considerably more positive than an “N1”; a “P3” is much more positive than an “N1”. Etc.

From Numbers to Adverbs

One of the strengths of this system is that we can easily talk about the levels both in terms of a number (1, 2, or 3) and an adverb describing that level. Thus, in the following use the three adverbs “somewhat”, “medium”, and “strongly” when I am combining them with the adjectives “positive” and “negative”.

So when we are looking at a P1 person we might say that he is “somewhat positive”; when we are considering a P2 person we could say that he is “medium positive”; and when we are talking about a P3 person we could say that he is “strongly positive”.

Similarly, when we are looking at an N1 person we might say that he is “somewhat negative”; when we are considering an N2 person we could say that he is “medium negative”; and when we are talking about an N3 person we could say that he is “strongly negative”.

So, all in all, I think this is very promising for the future. This sounds, to me, like it could be practically usable in “real life”, by “ordinary” people.

Subtyping the Six Levels

What if there comes a time when we, for some reason, need to have more levels? Well, at that point we could, of course, just redo the whole thing and just start with the new number of levels.

But again, why would we “need” to do that? That is a question we must ask. And that question gets even more important after we have put our current system “in motion”, so to speak.

But let’s say that we do decide to adopt more levels, in order to get a less coarse, more “fine” gradation of levels. What then? Could we somehow “extend” the current system to encompass this new requirement?

Yes, I think so. The simplest and most elegant way to do this would be to use subtyping. By adding a small letter to the digit we could divide each of the six levels in any number of sublevels.

So let’s say that we want 9 levels on each “half” of the spectrum. That’s 9 levels on the negative side, and 9 levels on the positive side. All in all 18 levels.

But 18 levels is three times 6 levels; so each level in the current system should be “replaced” with three levels instead.

Now, instead of actually replacing the current six levels, why not just add the 18 new levels “on top” of (or, rather, “below” or “under”) the already existing ones? That way, we can keep our current system and all our previous terminology, and then also refer to the new levels.

And this could be done by using the small letters “a”, “b”, and “c” as the subtypes, and then prefix them with the current label “N1”, “N2”, etc.

Thus, we would produce a nice system where we can talk about “N2” as a more general group, and then about “N2a”, or “N2b”, or “N2c” as the three subdivisions.

Chris Bocay

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First published: Fri 10 Jan 2020
Last revised: Mon 8 Aug 2022

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