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Perceived Stress Scale (PSS)
Description of the scale:
Creator: Sheldon Cohen (1983)
The Perceived Stress Scale (PSS) is the most broadly utilized mental instrument
for measuring the Perception of Stress. It is a measure of the extent to which
circumstances throughout one's life are evaluated as distressing. Things were
intended to evaluate how flighty, wild, and over-burden respondents observe their
lives to be. The scale likewise incorporates various direct questions about current
levels of experienced stress. In addition, the inquiries are of a general nature and
thus are moderately free of substance particular to any sub-population group. The
inquiries in the PSS get some information about feelings and thoughts amid the
most recent month. For every situation, respondents are asked how regularly they
felt a certain way. "...a psychometrically sound global measure of perceived stress
could provide valuable additional information about the relationship between stress
and pathology.... the Perceived Stress Scale (PSS) [was] developed in response to
these issues. The PSS measures the degree to which situations in one's life are
appraised as stressful." –Cohen (1983).
History of the Perceived Stress Scale (PSS)
Before the development of the PSS, assessment of stress tended to focus on
objective indicators (e.g., frequencies) of specific stressors (e.g., chronic illness,
family loss, new family members). This tendency subsequently overlooks the
influence an individual’s subjective interpretation of a stressor might have upon the
experience of a stressor. Cohen et al. (1983) viewed the void of the subjective
component in assessing stress as an unwanted quality and developed the PSS in
response. Specifically, the PSS is based upon Lazarus’s original transactional
model of stress that argues the experience of a stressor is influenced by evaluations
on the part of the person as to how well they can manage a stressor given their
coping resources. The original PSS consist of 14-items that are purported to form a
unidimensional scale of global perceived stress. Although scores on the 14-item
PSS tend to exhibit good reliability estimates across literature, four of the items
tend to perform poorly when evaluated using factor analysis. As a result, the PSS is
usually implemented using the 10-item version. Cohen et al. (1988) further reduced
1

the PSS to a four item form for quick measurements; however, scores on the 4-item
PSS tend to exhibit lower reliability estimates than researcher would like.
Purpose / Primary use: Measure the perception of stress.
Length: 10 items.
Average completion time: 5-10 minutes.
Target population: Individuals with at least a junior high (secondary) school
education.
Administration: For individual or group administration.
Uses of the PSS: Stress perception research (academic purpose) and clinical cases.
Conditions of scale use: Permission for use of the scale is not necessary when use
is for academic research or educational purposes.

Psychometric properties of the Perceived Stress Scale
Reliability: Cohen, Kamarck, & Mermelstein (1983) reported Cronbach’s α
between .84-.86 for the PSS. Test-retest reliability for the PSS was .85
Across diverse conditions, researchers report relatively satisfactory reliability
estimates for scores on the 14-item and 10-item versions. For example, Roberti et
al. (2006) reported reliability estimate of .85 and .82 in a university sample for
scores for scores on the perceived helplessness and perceived self-efficacy scales,
respectively. Highly similar results were reported in Taylor (2015) in a simple of
mid-aged adults. However, one of the limitations for much of the reliability
estimates reported in the extant literature is the overly restrictive requirement of
tau-equivalence for accurate reliability estimates. Tau-equivalence requires each
item of a scale to have approximately the same size of relationship with the
unobserved characteristics (e.g., perceived self-efficacy) driving responses to the
items. Therefore, it is largely unknown whether items on the PSS assign scores
with the same degree of reliability for respondents with high latent levels (e.g.,
2

perceived helplessness) as respondents with low latent levels. One exception is in
Taylor (2015), where the graded response model was utilized to study the
reliability levels across levels of the two latent variables. Taylor (2015) reported
that that the perceived self-efficacy and perceived helplessness tended to estimate
scores reliably across levels of the latent variables except among respondents with
exceptionally low levels of perceived self-efficacy. Finally, much less is known
about the reliability of scores in the 4-item version.
Validity: Correlation of the PSS to other measures of similar symptoms ranges
between .52-.76 (Cohen et al., 1983).
Factor structure
Although Cohen et al. (1983) originally argued the PSS to be a unidimensional
measure of perceived stress, the research community generally views the 14-item
and 10-item versions as two dimensional. The predominant versions consist of
positively and negatively phrased items. Under exploratory factor analysis, the
negatively phrased items have been found to load onto a second factor separate
from the positively phrased items, giving the appearance of a method effect. That
is, a significant portion of the variability in the responses to a subset of the items is
a product of how the items are phrased.
However, inspection of the items suggests a substantive difference in the positively
phrased items versus the negatively phrased items with negatively phrased items
on their face characterizing perceived helplessness while positively phrased items
may be characterizing self-efficacy. Some support for this conceptualization has
emerged. For example, Hewitt et al. (1992) found that the Perceived helplessness
(negatively phrased) items tended to predict depression in both men and women
while the positively phrased items tended to predict depression in women only.
The patterns of differential prediction of depression between genders tend to
indicate that negatively phrased items are tapping something substantive rather
than a method effect. Similarly, Taylor (2015) found that fixing the covariance to
zero between two latent factors created by treating the negatively and positively
phrased items as subscales tended to produce a significantly worse fitting model
than a correlated solution. Had the negatively phrased items been producing a
secondary factor consisting of method variance, a significant correlation between
3

the two latent factors would not have likely been observed. Although the
preponderance of evidence is on the side of a multidimensional measure, the issue
has not been fully resolved owing in part to limitations in the methodological
knowledge available in distinguishing between substantive and method variance.

NORMS
Scoring of the Perceived Stress Scale

Scoring:

Never

Almost
never

Sometimes

Fairly
often

Very
often

Questions 1, 2, 3, 6,
0
1
2
3
4
9, & 10
Questions 4, 5, 7, &
4
3
2
1
0
8
Above is a table showing the scoring format of the PSS. Taking a closer look at
Questions 1, 2, 3, 6, 9, and 10; one would notice these are the negatively phrased
items so that they can be scored in a straight-forwardly in the progression of
response 0 to 4 while the positively worded Questions 4, 5, 7, and 8 are reverse
scored in the progression of response 4 to 0.
Interpretation of the Perceived Stress Scale
What do the scores in the Perceived Stress Scale mean?
Your Perceived Stress Level was ________
Scores around 13 are considered average. In Cohen & Mermelstein’s research, it
was observed that high stress groups usually have a stress score of around 20
points of the possible score of 40. Scores of 20 or higher are considered high
stress, and if you are in this range, you might consider learning new stress
reduction techniques as well as increasing your exercise to at least three times a
week. High psychological stress is associated with high blood pressure, higher
Body Mass Index (BMI), larger waist to hip ratio, shorter telomere length, higher
cortisol levels, suppressed immune function, decreased sleep, and increased

4

alcohol consumption. These are all important risk factors for cardiovascular
disease.

Perceived Stress Scale (PSS): What is it like?
The questions in this scale ask you about your feelings and thoughts during the last
month. In each case, please tick how often you felt or thought a certain way.
Never

Almost
never

Sometimes

1. In the last
month, how often
have you been
upset because of
something that
happened
unexpectedly?
2. In the last
month, how often
have you felt that
you were unable to
control the
important things in
your life?
3. In the last
month, how often
have you felt
nervous and
“stressed”?
4. In the last
month, how often
have you felt
confident about
your ability to
handle your
personal problems?
5

Fairly often Very often

5. In the last
month, how often
have you felt that
things were going
you way?
6. In the last
month, how often
have you found
that you could not
cope with all the
things that you had
to do?
7. In the last
month, how often
have you been able
to control
irritations in your
life?
8. In the last
month, how often
have you felt that
you were on top of
things?
9. In the last month
how often have
you been angered
because of things
that were outside
of your control?
10. In the last
month, how often
have you felt
difficulties were
piling up so high
that you could not
overcome them?

6

Local norms for the Perceived Stress Scale (PSS)
Participants: 100 undergraduate students in the Ekiti State University.
Sampling method: Quota sampling; since there is the need to maintain a
proportion of 50 males and 50 females to represent the entire population and as
such, eliminate selection bias.

Norms and Interpretation of scores
Sex norm: calculated mean value for sex norm:
As shown in the work sheet, the calculated mean value for sex norm:
Male category
Mean value of 15.84 was obtained for males as shown in the work sheet using the
formula ∑X/N = 792/50 = 15.84 so that 15.84 is the male norm.
Where ∑X is the summation of male scores;
N is the total number of participants.
Female category
Mean value of 16.8 was obtained for females as shown in the work sheet using the
formula ∑X/N = 840/50 = 16.8 so that 16.8 is the female norm.
Where ∑X is the summation of female scores;
N is the total number of participants.
Overall population mean: summation of male and female categories divided
by 100

7

Calculated mean value 16.32 was obtained for the entire population by using the
formula ∑X/N = 1632/100 = 16.32 so that 16.32 is the general sex norm (useful
when the researcher’s interest is to disregard the issue of sex).
Where ∑X is the summation of all scores,
N is the total number of participants.

Age norm
The age norm for any age group 18 to 29 years, 30 to 35 years, or 41 to
45+ years was derived by summing together the test scores in all age
group minus the summation of score of the specific group(s) of interest.
 Age 18 to 29 years = 16.36
 Age 30 to 35 years = 16.4
 Age 41 to 45+ years = 16.32

Interpretation of scores:

Male:
As regarding males, a score of 15.84 and above is indicative of high stress level
that needs clinical attention.
Female
As to the females, a score of 16.8 is indicative of high stress that needs clinical
attention.
Without sex categorization
Where sex may be disregarded, anyone either male or female with a score of 16.32
is indicative of high stress that needs clinical attention.

8

Age
 Age 18 to 29 years with the score of 16.36 and above is indicative of high
stress the needs clinical attention.
 Age 30 to 35 years with the score of 16.4 is indicative of high stress that
needs clinical attention.
 Age 41 to 45+ years with the score of 16.32 is indicative of high stress level
that needs clinical attention.

Reference:
Cohen, S., & Janicki-Deverts, D. (2012). Who’s stressed? Distributions of
psychological stress in the United States in probability samples from 1983,
2006 and 2009. Journal o9f Applied Social Psychology.
Cohen, S., Kamarck, T., Mermelstein, R. (1983). A global measure of perceived
stress. Journal of Health and Social Behavior. 24, 385-396.
Cohen, S., & Williamson, G. (1988). Perceived stress in a probability sample of the
U.S. In S. Spacapam & S. Oskamp (Eds). The social psychology of health:
Claremont Symposium on Applied Social Psychology. Newbury Park, CA:
Sage.
Perceived Stress Scale. Retrieved from
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perceived_Stress_Scale.
Taylor, John M. (2015). Psychological Assessments, Vol. 27(1).

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