I have data from a survey comprised of several measures that used different Likert-type scaling (4-, 5-, and 6-point scales). I would like to run a principal components analysis using the data from these measures. It seems to me that I need to transform this data in some way so that the power of all items is equivalent prior to analysis. However, I am uncertain how to proceed.

  • $\begingroup$ What do you mean by power? If you wish to bring them to a common scale then you can use a linear transformation to convert all scales to a common scale (say 5 point). Likert scales are interval scales and hence linear transformations do not 'destroy' the properties of the scale. Is this what you want/meant? $\endgroup$
    – user28
    Oct 20, 2010 at 16:46
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ The usual way to accomplish this is to do the PCA on the correlation matrix instead of the covariance matrix. $\endgroup$
    – whuber
    Oct 20, 2010 at 16:52

1 Answer 1


As suggested by @whuber, you can "abstract" the scale effect by working with a standardized version of your data. If you're willing to accept that an interval scale is the support of each of your item (i.e. the distance between every two response categories would have the same meaning for every respondents), then linear correlations are fine. But you can also compute polychoric correlation to better account for the discretization of a latent variable (see the R package polycor). Of note, it's a largely more computer-intensive job, but it works quite well in R.

Another possibility is to combine optimal scaling within your PCA, as implemented in the homals package. The idea is to find a suitable non-linear transformation of each scale, and this is very nicely described by Jan de Leeuw in the accompagnying vignette or the JSS article, Gifi Methods for Optimal Scaling in R: The Package homals. There are several examples included.

For a more thorough understanding of this approach with any factorial method, see the work of Yoshio Takane in the 80s.

Similar points were raised by @Jeromy and @mbq on related questions, Does it ever make sense to treat categorical data as continuous?, How can I use optimal scaling to scale an ordinal categorical variable?

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks to all of you for your very good comments and suggestions. $\endgroup$
    – Mike
    Oct 20, 2010 at 22:08

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