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Journal ol Consulting and Clinical Psychology

1974, Vol. 42, No. 6, 861-865

THE MEASUREMENT OF PESSIMISM:


THE HOPELESSNESS SCALE1
AARON T. BECK 2 AND ARLENE WEISSMAN
University of Pennsylvania
DAVID LESTER LARRY TREXLER
Philadelphia General Hospital Camden County Community Mental
Health Program

A scale designed to quantify hopelessness was administered to several diverse


samples of patients to assess its psychometric properties. This scale was
found to have a high degree of internal consistency and showed a relatively
high correlation with the clinical ratings of hopelessness and other self-admin-
istered measures of hopelessness. Furthermore, the scale was sensitive to changes
in the patient's state of depression over time. An affective, a motivational,
and a cognitive factor were extracted.

Considerable work in recent years has (Crumbaugh & Maholick, 19,69; Gunn &
focused on the importance of hopelessness in Pearman, 1970; Stein, Sarbin, & Kulik, 1968;
a variety of psychopathological conditions. Yufit, Benzies, Fonte, & Fawcett, 1970).
Thus, hopelessness has been identified as one In order to facilitate the study of hopeless-
of the core characteristics of depression ness in various psychopathological conditions,
(Beck, 1963, 1967; Melges & Bowlby, 1969) Beck constructed an instrument designed to
and has been implicated in a variety of other reflect the respondent's negative expectancies.
conditions such as suicide (Beck, 1963), This measure has been evaluated in a number
schizophrenia (Laing & Esterson, 1965), of studies and has been found to be reliable,
alcoholism (Smart, 1968),sociopathy (Melges sensitive, and easily administered.
& Bowlby, 1969), and physical illness
CONSTRUCTION OF THE HOPELESSNESS
(Schmale, 19S8).
SCALE
Surprisingly, there has been a dearth of con-
trolled clinical studies designed to explore these Two sources were utilized in selecting items
relationships. One explanation is that many for the 20-item true-false Hopelessness Scale
clinical investigators believe that hopelessness (HS). Nine items were selected from a test
is simply a diffuse feeling state and conse- of attitudes about the future structured in a
quently too vague and amorphous for quanti- semantic differential format (Heimberg,
fication ' and systematic study. Stotland 1961). These items were then revised to make
(1969), however, in his review of the litera- them appropriate for the present test. The
ture on hopelessness, argued against this be- remaining 11 items were drawn from a pool
lief and proposed that a person's hopelessness of pessimistic statements made by psychia-
can be objectified by denning it in terms of a tric patients who were adjudged by clinicians
system of negative expectancies concerning to appear hopeless. Those statements were
himself and his future life. Although a num- selected which seemed to reflect different facets
ber of measures of attitudes toward the future of the spectrum of negative attitudes about
have been developed, they have not been de- the future and which recurred frequently in
signed to quantify hopelessness specifically the patient's verbalizations.
Initially, the scale was administered to a
1
This research was supported by National Insti- random sample of depressed and nondepressed
tute of Mental Health Grant MH19989-03. patients who were apprised of the purpose of
2
Requests for reprints should be sent to Aaron T.
Beck, 429 Stoufter Building, Philadelphia General the test and who provided their opinions re-
Hospital, 700 Civic Center Boulevard, Philadelphia, garding the relevance of the content and
Pennsylvania 19104. clarity of each statement. The scale was then
861
862 BECK, WEISSMAN, LESTER, AND TEEXLER

appraised by several clinicians regarding the items. Further modifications in wording were
face validity and comprehensibility of the made on the basis of the opinions obtained
from these sources.
TABLE 1 The final format consisted of 20 true-false
INTERNAL CONSISTENCY OF THE statements of which 9 were keyed false and
HOPELESSNESS SCALE
11 were keyed true. For every statement,
Item-total
each response was assigned a score of 0 or 1,
Item correla- and the total "hopelessness score" was the
tions sum of the scores on the individual items.
Thus, the possible range of scores was from
2.1 might as well give up because .63 0 to 20.
I can't make things better
for myself. RELIABILITY
4. I can't imagine what my life .39
would be like in 10 years. A population of 294 hospitalized patients
7. My future seems dark to me. .72 who had made recent suicide attempts pro-
9. I just don't get the breaks, .64
and there's no reason to be- vided the data for determination of the in-
lieve I will in the future. ternal consistency of the HS. Table 2 shows
11. All I can see ahead of me is .76 the breakdown of this sample by sex, race,
unpleasantness rather than age, last grade completed, and civil status.
pleasantness.
12. I don't expect to get what I .70
The internal consistency of the scale was
really want. analyzed by means of coefficient alpha (KR-
14. Things just won't work out .63 20), which yielded a reliability coefficient of
the way I want them to. .93.
16. I never get what I want so .67
it's foolish to want anything. Scale Inter correlations
17. It is very unlikely that I will .72
get any real satisfaction in the All of the 190 coefficients in the interitem
future. correlation matrix were significant (N =
18. The future seems vague and .62 294). The same sample of hospitalized pa-
uncertain to me.
20. There's no use in really trying .71
to get something I want be- TABLE 2
cause I probably won't get it. DEMOGRAPHIC INFORMATION FOR 294 HOSPITALIZED
SUICIDE ATTEMPTERS
1. I look forward to the future .69
with hope and enthusiasm.
3. When things are going badly, .49 Male Female
Variable (42.5%) (57.5%)
I am helped by knowing they
can't stay that way forever.
5. I have enough time to accom- .50 Race (%)
plish the things I most want Caucasian 60.8 43.8
to do. Negro 36.0 55.6
6. In the future, I expect to .62 Other 3.2 .6
succeed in what concerns me
most. Age (in years)
8. I expect to get more of the .51 M 31.35 29.84
good things in life than the SD 10.39 9.91
average person. Last grade completed
10. My past experiences have .49 M 10.84 10.86
prepared me well for my sn 2.37 2.34
future.
13. When I look ahead to the .66 Civil status (%)
future, I expect I will be Unknown .8 .0
happier than I am now. Cohabitation 2.5 8.9
15. I have great faith in the .74 Single 52.1 33.9
future. Married 14.1 19.6
19. I can look forward to more .70 Widowed 3.3 2.4
good times than bad times. Separated/living apart 23.1 31.0
Divorced 4.1 4.2
Note. All correlations were significant at .01 level.
THE HOPELESSLESS SCALE 863

tients showed highly significant correlations At the time of discharge, the patients re-
between each item and the total HS score. ceived the same battery of tests. There was
The item-total correlation coefficients ranged a significant reduction in mean scores on the
from .39 to .76 (see Table 1). HS and the Stuart Future Test. The changes
in the HS scores correlated .49 with change
VALIDITY scores on the Stuart Future Test and .49
Clinician Ratings with the change scores on the DI, respectively
(/X.01).
The clinicians in each of the studies used
an 8-point scale and included the following Construct Validity
indices in arriving at their clinical assess- Another index of the validity of the HS
ment of severity: Patient believes (a) that was provided by its use as a measure in test-
he will never get well, (b) that he will not ing various hypotheses relevant to the con-
solve his problems, (c) that the future looks struct under investigation. The HS was used
black, (d) that he has nothing to look for- in several studies, and, in each case, the hy-
ward to, (e) that he will not achieve his pothesis was confirmed, a finding that sup-
goals. The global rating took into account ports the construct validity of this instru-
the intensity of the negative expectancies and ment.
observable behaviors such as the patient's Among the hypotheses tested and con-
tone of voice and facial expression when talk- firmed were the following:
ing about the future. 1. Depressed patients have an unrealistic-
ally negative attitude toward the future, and
Concurrent Validity these negative expectancies are reduced when
The concurrent validity was determined by the patient recovers clinically from his de-
comparing HS scores with clinical ratings of pression (Vatz, Winig, & Beck, 1969).
hopelessness and with other tests designed to 2. Seriousness of suicidal intent is more
measure negative attitudes about the future. highly correlated with negative expectancies
The correlations of HS total scores with than with depression. The statistical associa-
clinical ratings of hopelessness were compared tion between suicidal intent and depression
in two samples: (a) 23 outpatients in gen- is an artifact resulting from a joint attach-
eral medical practice and (b) 62 hospitalized ment to a third variable, namely, hopeless-
patients who had made recent suicidal at- ness (Minkoff, Bergman, Beck, & Beck,
tempts. The correlation with the clinical rat- 1973). .
ings of hopelessness in the general practice 3. Following a successful experience on a
sample was .74 (^<.001); with the at- card-sorting task, hospitalized depressed pa-
tempted suicide sample, .62 (p < .001). The tients show an increase in optimism regard-
interrater reliability of the two judges was ing future performance on similar tasks that
.86 (p< .001), generalizes to a global improvement in opti-
A population of 59 depressed patients on mism. Failure on this task leads to a signi-
the psychiatric unit of the Hospital of the ficant increase in hopelessness (Beck, 1974).
University of Pennsylvania was used to vali- 4. After completing a graded hierarchy of
date the HS by comparing it with other mea- verbal tasks, depressed and nondepressed pa-
sures of hopelessness. At the time of admis- tients show significant decrements in hope-
sion, the correlation of the HS with the lessness (Beck, 1974).
Stuart Future Test (a semantic differential
test; Stuart, 1962) was .60 (p < .001); the Factor Analysis
correlation with the pessimism item of the The data obtained from the 294 suicide
Depression Inventory (DI) (Beck, 1967) was attempters (see Table 2) were subjected to a
.63 (p<.001). The HS correlated more factor analysis. Product-moment correlation
highly with this item than with any of the coefficients were computed, and the resulting
other items on the DI. correlation matrix was subjected to a princi-
864 BECK, WEISSMAN, LESTER, AND TREXLER

TABLE 3 working out; and the future being vague and


VARIMAX ROTATED FACTOR MATRIX or THE uncertain.
HOPELESSNESS SCALE
EVALUATION
Factor The need for an instrument capable of
Item assessing a respondent's negative expectancies
1 2 3 has led to the development of the HS. The
1 .75 .25 .21 underlying assumption is that hopelessness
2 .49 .57 .02 can be readily objectified by defining it as a
3 .22 .50 .07 system of cognitive schemas whose common
4 -.08 .11 .65 denomination is negative expectations about
S .45 .14 .25
6 .71 .24 .14 the future.
7 .39 .34 .54 The validity data presented for the HS
8 .27 .07 .59 are deemed sufficient to justify its use on a
9 .16 .56 .41 continuing basis. In the future, the authors
10 .25 .16 .41
11 .40 .56 .39
hope to obtain more extensive validity evi-
12 .30 .50 .42 dence pertaining to nonpsychiatric, as well as
13 .74 .31 .07 psychiatric, patients; the base rate of the
14 .10 .49 .53 scale; and its sensitivity through continued
15 .64 .21 .47
16 .14 .80 .15
clinical use. The HS is an instrument that
17 .45 .65 .18 may be used by both professionals and para-
18 .32 .18 .65 professionals involved in the detection and as-
19 .50 .41 .37 sessment of hopelessness as an important
20 .22 .74 .26 variable in many psychopathological pro-
% variance 41.7 6.2 5.6 cesses.
Note, N = 294. Items with loadings greater than .50 were REFERENCES
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THE HOPELESSNESS SCALE 865
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