New Anti-Mattering Scale provides more ways to assess distress

person walking alone

A new Anti-Mattering Scale (AMS) developed by York University provides clinicians with another tool to assess the tendency of certain people to experience a profound sense of not mattering to others.

Researchers at York have created a new AMS tool to measure and assess feelings of insignificance in youth and adults. The AMS provides clinicians with a unique tool to assess the tendency of certain people to experience a profound sense of not mattering to others in ways that represent a unique source of risk, social disconnection and personal vulnerability.

Gordon Flett
Gordon Flett

The tool is a five-item scale created by York researchers and published in a study in the Journal of Psychoeducational Assessment. The study – led by Gordon Flettprofessor of psychology at York and Canada Research Chair in Personality & Health and Director of York’s LaMarsh Centre for Child & Youth Research – is part of a special journal issue on the psychology of mattering: how mattering is an essential part of life and is vital to happiness, well-being and physical health.

“Not mattering is one of the most destructive feelings that someone could have based on our initial findings,” says Flett. “People who feel like they don’t matter may report they feel irrelevant and unimportant as if they are not seen and not heard, while people who feel like they matter feel valued by people who care about them.” He adds this is particularly important given the current pandemic. “Anti-mattering feelings are very salient and easier to experience due to pandemic-related isolation, loneliness and external circumstances beyond our control that can make us feel small and perhaps insignificant.”

The purpose of this research was to develop a reliable measure using a set of items to assesses the feeling of not mattering. The scale was also designed to distinguish feelings of not mattering from feelings of not belonging and not feeling supported by others. Questions featured in the scale include, “how much do you feel like you don’t matter?” and “how often have you been treated in a way that makes you feel like you are insignificant?” These items are rated on a scale ranging from one (not at all) to four (a lot). Higher scores reflect greater levels of anti-mattering.

The scale was created using data from three studies with university students and one study with adolescents. Results were measured using self-reporting questionnaires. Researchers say their findings from the studies suggest individuals who feel like they don’t matter to others have a highly negative self-view, insecure attachment, and perceived deficits in meeting fundamental psychological needs. Researchers also found links between elevated AMS scores and higher levels of loneliness, depression, and social anxiety. Overall, these results attest to the research utility and clinical potential of the AMS.

The scale reflects four main components of mattering: the sense that other people depend on us, the perception that other people regard us as important, the realization that other people are actively paying attention to us, and the feeling that other people would miss us if we were no longer around.

The researchers write, “not mattering in the form of anti-mattering should be regarded as a unique and specific vulnerability, unlike any other risk factor. People who might otherwise seem protected due to the presence of other personal resources (e.g. mindfulness) will still be at considerable risk if they have a personal identity dominated by the sense of not mattering to others. This sense of being insignificant and unimportant can become a cognitive preoccupation that is internalized and results in self-harm tendencies and an inability or unwillingness to engage in self-care.”

One component led by co-author Joel Goldberg, a psychology professor at York, contrasted students living in residence with or without a history of mental health problems. Students with a history of some form of mental illness had an AMS mean of 14.16 and students without a history of mental illness had a much lower AMS mean of 11.21. Results were then shared with residence dons so they could put results into action by encouraging connections between students and promoting feelings of mattering among students living in residence.

The overall pattern of results confirmed AMS scores are associated with depression, loneliness, social anxiety, and negative affect. The strong association anti-mattering had with loneliness is noteworthy because the magnitude of the correlation suggests loneliness and a sense of not mattering are linked inextricably for many people.

“The ultimate goal of this research is to document the power of mattering and make it our shared mission to increase feelings of mattering and reduce anti-mattering feelings in people of all ages,” says Flett. “We all need to matter at home, at school, at work, and in the community.”