From Ordinal Representations to Representational Profiles: A Primer for Describing and Modelling Social Representations of History

  • James H. Liu Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand
  • Chris G. Sibley Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand



Social representations theory is rich in explanatory power and broad in scope. This very complexity often leads to cases where predictions derived from the theory are difficult to operationalize and test. We argue that in many cases this is because social representations theory requires statistical models and analytic techniques that are uncommon in other social science traditions. In this chapter we outline a series of analytic methods and describe examples for their use in both improving description and testing predictions relating to social representations of history. We offer this overview as a methods primer for four complementary analytic methods for the study of social representations. These four methods are: (1) ordinal models assessing naming prevalence, (2) dimensional models assessing relational representations, (3) factorial representations focusing on unitary concepts, and the most recent addition to our toolbox: (4) representational profiles: latent class analysis allowing the assessment of representational profiles. We focus much of our primer on this method, and argue that latent class models, and factor mixture modelling in general has immense potential for the empirical assessment of social representations. This is because such models allow the assessment of categorical models of different types of representations, where those representations can represent different emerging factor structures derived inductively from the data. We finish by formally outlining a series of six premises for the theory and measurement of representational profiles using this novel approach. Syntax documenting a worked example of the Latent Class Model tested in one of our earlier papers using Mplus is appendicized, and additional supplementary material posted online.

Author Biographies

James H. Liu, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand

JAMES HOU-FU LIU is Professor of Psychology at Victoria University of Wellington (VUW), New Zealand, and Co-Director of its Centre for Applied Cross Cultural Research ( He obtained a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science from the University of Illinois and worked as an aerospace engineer before completing a PhD in social psychology at UCLA He had a post-doctoral fellowship at Florida Atlantic University, and has been teaching at VUW since 1994. His research is in cross-cultural political psychology, specializing in history and identity. He has more than 130 publications. He was Editor-in-Chief of the Asian Journal of Social Psychology from 2008-2011, and is currently President-Elect of the Asian Association of Social Psychology. A naturalized citizen of two countries, he describes himself as a “Chinese-American-New Zealander”.

Chris G. Sibley, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand

CHRIS G. SIBLEY is a senior lecturer of social psychology at the University of Auckland. His primary research interests are in prejudice, intergroup relations, environmental psychology, and quantitative methods and analysis. He is the lead investigator for the New Zealand Attitudes and Values Study.