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Desperate times call for a desperate measure: Validating a measure of state desperation


Arguably, one’s feeling of desperation is important in decision-making, especially in high stress situations. However, this is an assumption, as there is no known measure of desperation, outside of being symptomology for other health related constructs (e.g., depression). Through a series of studies, we created and validated a measure of state desperation. Exploratory and confirmatory factor analyses suggest that the State Desperation Scale contains two components that encompass both emotional and motivational aspects. In the first study, we showed that scores on the measure positively correlate with other negative state-based constructs, such as stress, anxiety, low self-esteem, and coping strategies, and negatively correlate with positive affect. We replicate these patterns over three samples. Finally, in an experimental study, we manipulated desperation to show that it is state-based, but also distinct from stress or anxiety. Analyses indicate the measure is reliable, content valid, and provides evidence of convergent and discriminant validity. We conclude the State Desperation Scale adequately measures the emotional and motivational components of desperation.

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  1. It should be noted that per reviewer requests, additional CFAs were analyzed on Sample 3, as well as Samples 2 and 3 combined. The results were similar. The results can be found on the OSF website.


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Correspondence to Jana Hackathorn.

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No potential conflict of interest is reported by the authors. In accordance with APA policy and my ethical obligation as a researcher, I am reporting that I have no financial and/or business interests in, nor am I a consultant to any company that may be affected by the research reported in the enclosed paper.

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Through a series of studies and analyses, we developed and validated a measure of desperation. The State Desperation Scale adequately measures the emotional and motivational components of feeling desperate.

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The State Desperation Scale

Please answer the questions below, be as honest as possible and make your best estimate.

Does not describe

at all


Describes Very well











1. At this moment, I feel hopeless.

2. At this moment, I feel as though I need to act/do something.

3. At this moment, I feel as though I have no control.

4. At this moment, I feel as though I need help.

5. At this moment, I feel alone.

6. At this moment, I feel as though it is urgent to act/do something.

7. At this moment, I feel as though I have to act quickly.

8. At this moment, I feel frantic to act/do something.

9. How desperate do you feel at this moment?

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Hannan, C.E., Hackathorn, J. Desperate times call for a desperate measure: Validating a measure of state desperation. Curr Psychol 41, 4490–4500 (2022).

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