True Measure of System 1 Thinking™.

AdSAM®'s Empirical Foundations


AdSAM® is based on the PAD Theory of Emotion and is rooted in a wealth of academic, psychological and marketing research.

The PAD Theory, as supported by a recent fMRI study conducted at the University of Florida and published in the Journal of Human Brain Mapping, states that all emotions are a combination of three dimensions Pleasure, Arousal and Dominance. While the PAD Theory was originally developed as a verbal scale, researchers determined the verbal nature of the scale had too many limitations. Thus, graphic characters—SAM (Self-Assessment Manikin) and later AdSAM® (Attitude Self-Assessment Manikin)—were developed to depict each PAD dimension.

The Pleasure (P) scale has a character ranging from a smiling, happy SAM to a frowning, unhappy SAM.

The Arousal (A) scale is a character that ranges from a sleeping SAM with eyes closed to a frenzied, excited SAM with eyes wide open.

The Dominance (D) scale ranges from a small submissive SAM to a large powerful SAM.

For a thorough understanding the measures’ foundation, explore the following:

PAD Theory
SAM and AdSAM® (Manikins)
Measure Validation


PAD Theory

Pleasure, Arousal, Dominance Theory of Emotions
In the 1960’s, researchers developed the semantic differential technique to measure affective components of total meaning, which, as it turned out, are closely related to the dimensions of affect, feeling or emotion.

Three semantic differential factors, Evaluation, Activity, and Potency (E-A-P), emerged and were replicated in diverse experimental settings. Evaluation, Activity, and Potency represented the most rudimentary level of human cognitive response or judgment (i.e., emotion) to any physical or social stimuli and situation. Evaluation, Activity, and Potency, as semantic factors were found to emerge in virtually any situation and across all sense modalities, because these three dimensions describe all emotions, and have been shown to be the key intervening variables between any set stimuli and the behavioral outcome.

Evaluation is the high-low evaluation of stimuli (e.g., good-bad, pleasing-annoyed), Activity is the level of arousal assessed from a given stimuli, and Potency is the level of the power created by the stimulus.

Emotion Space
Pleasure—displeasure, arousal—non-arousal, and dominance—submissiveness, are the corresponding emotional reactions to the evaluation, the activity level, and the potency of all stimuli. High-low evaluations of stimuli are associated with feelings of pleasure and displeasure. More active stimuli elicit greater states of arousal and the emotional response arousal-nonarousal is a positive correlate of stimulus activity. Potency elicits either submissiveness, signifying that the emotional response is a negative correlate of stimulus potency or dominance, where the emotional response is a positive correlate of stimulus potency.

Pleasure (P), Arousal (A), and Dominance (D) [PAD] represent the core human emotional reaction system and any emotion can be described as combinations and degrees of these three dimensions. PAD is sufficient to characterize any emotional reaction and the use of all three dimensions is necessary for a complete description of all feelings. Pleasure, Arousal, and Dominance correspond to three nearly independent axes in a three-dimensional model of emotional space. Emotional reactions to any stimuli or situation can be plotted and visually described in this three dimensional space.

The original method used to measure PAD are semantic differential scales based on sets of precalibrated bi-polar emotion denoting adjectives that primarily tap into the intend core dimension. However, researchers have found a number of difficulties with using the verbal based measures.

  • Verbal measures are limited in their ability to separate emotional response from the evaluative processes and do not uncover emotions that are not well vocalized.
  • Verbal measures are cognitively-based, which means when responding to these measures subjects are thinking about the emotion and how it relates to the adjectives used. Affective reactions are instantaneous and automatic and because of the cognitive processes involved, reacting to verbal measures distorts the original response to the stimuli in research settings.

Moreover, communications conveying emotion are processed using nonverbal channels of communication and require nonverbal measures to fully assess the emotional response. In addition, verbal measures are cumbersome, requiring a large investment in time and resources to analyze a small number of stimuli in a single experimental setting. The solution, is a non-verbal measure, such as SAM.


SAM and AdSAM (Attitude Self-Assessment Manikin)

Researchers turned to non-verbal methods, specifically visually oriented measures of emotional response, in order to eliminate many of the problems associated with verbal based measures. The Self-Assessment Manikin (SAM), and later a modified version AdSAM®, a picture based scale, were advanced as alternatives to verbal measures. Visually oriented scales using a graphic character eliminate the majority of problems associated with verbal measures. AdSAM® is graphic characters designed to visually represent the PAD semantic differential emotion dimensions.

AdSAM® depicts each PAD dimension with a graphic character arranged on a linear nine-point scale. The Pleasure (P) scale has a character ranging from a smiling, happy AdSAM® to a frowning, unhappy AdSAM®. The Arousal (A) scale is a character that ranges from a sleeping SAM with eyes closed to a frenzied, excited AdSAM® with eyes wide open. The Dominance (D) scale ranges from a small submissive AdSAM® to a large powerful AdSAM®. This scale differs from the first two in that it is arranged in reverse order, representing the inverse relationship between stimulus potency and the corresponding emotional reaction. Subjects can complete ratings on the AdSAM® scale in less than 15 to 20 seconds, virtually eliminating respondent burnout and allowing more stimuli to be examined in a single research setting.

The PAD theory of emotion and the AdSAM® scales have been widely applied in marketing and communications, product development and personnel management. The PAD theory gained the attention of marketing communication researchers interested in advertising research, especially for strategy development and copy testing. The visually oriented Attitude Self-Assessment Manikin has demonstrated its effectiveness in evaluating the full range of affective responses in a wide variety of marketing communications research conditions.