February 16, 2012

Of course, this is entirely unbiased (as a Psychologist, i know to make objective observations) but Psychologists are pretty awesome ! I think being able to say you can measure anything, even internal or covert behaviours is rather impressive and i defy anyone to ague against it. Now before you get ahead of yourself, i didn’t just necessarily suggest we could measure EVERYTHING. I said, it’s cool IF we can.

So, lets looky what we have here… in general terms Psychologists basically try to explain why we do all sorts of daft things and why we do the normal things we do, basically any behaviours. Many, can be directly observed and measured easily. However, there are also numberous behaviours that we cannot literally see and this of course makes measuring them rather difficult. Much like Freuds theory on dreams (which had very little substantial evidence) Psychologists use theories to determine why it is we engage in some behaviours that have no observable qualities. For example: how can we possibly measure self esteem, intelligence or motivation? There are a number of ways o get around this…

Lets first define a few terms:

– Hypothetical construct:  those behaviours that we cannot directly see and/or measure

-Operationalised varibles: when a researcher removes the ambiguity of a construct so that it can be measured and presented quantitatively/qualitatively

Although constructs like self esteem are entirely internal and we cannot see them, we can however observe and measure behaviors that come under the title of the construct using qualitative operationalised variables. So, we measure other varibles that represent the construct, kind of like it’s ‘sub categories’. For example the construct of intelligence, Lewis Terman revised the Benit Scale in 1916 and introduced the concept of the intelligence quotient (IQ). Though i cannot look at an individual and measure how intelligent they are purely via observation, i can provide them with an IQ test. This type of measurement will give me an idea of how well an individual can complete and understand tasks. Therefore this is an indirect method of obtaining a measurement of someones intelligence.

We must be wary though that the information we find is valid when we measure behaviours that are only representative of that construct – because we havent measured the construct itself directly. We also run the risk of finding a correlation rather than causation, meaning we cannot make conclusions about the relationships between the variables being observed.

We can also use operationalised varibles that give a quantative representations of a construct. Stress alone is a hypothetical construct that is difficult to measure. However we can measure blood pressure. The general rule is, the more stressed we are, the higher our blood pressure – this provides us with a numerical value that we could use for analysis.

WIth this information in mind, in theory this would suggest we can in fact measure everything…but i sharnt go as far as to say thats completely true. (just incase anyone started throwing blog comment abuse haha) as long as you can find operationalised varibles for a construct, you can measure it.

((This topic is very closely related to ‘Psychology as a Science’ debate and i found a really nice breakdown of this here if youre interested:




  1. psucd8 Says:

    I think the effectiveness of measuring a construct can be very debatable, and it can be argued that we aren’t actually measuring the construct. Take your example of using an IQ test to measure intelligence. For starters, what is intelligence defined as? From various dictionary and journal entries I have come to the conclusion that it is ‘the ability to learn’, so how can an IQ test actually show this? A general test such as that is more likely to test your knowledge than it is your ability to learn. If you have not encountered the opportunities to learn certain areas of geography, or how to solve certain mathematical problems then is it fair to be considered unintelligent from your performance on a test measuring these when you haven’t had the opportunity to try and learn the material?

    If you remember participating in the IQ test using Raven’s Matrices in the last semester then you will realise that that form of IQ was largely based on problem solving skills, which isn’t largely to do with your ability to learn. And can the ability to draw a figure of a human being really be classified as a measure of intelligence as implied by Scott (1981)? It may be suggested that if you were presented with a list of things you must learn and then tested on them you may have a better measure of ‘intelligence’ but then is that really measuring your intelligence or is it measuring your memory? Psychologists can only measure things they believe are associated with a particular construct, but these are not necessarily what the construct actually is.

    Scott, L. H. (1981). Measuring intelligence with the Goodenough-Harris drawing test. Psychological Bulletin, 89(3). 483-505. Doi: 10.1037/0033-2909.89.3.483

    To test your own IQ and compare to the rest of Britain try this:

  2. tommywiseau Says:

    It would be great if everything be measured completely accurately but sometimes there are to many factors involved to gain a reasonable answer. With IQ some may argue there is more to what an IQ test doesn’t measure than what it does for example creativity or emotional intelligence. Some constructs such as happyness are hard to measure constructively as well since it would be how your mood is affected that day that you are measured on. This article orbert Schwarz and his colleagues asked a group of adults how satisfied they were with their marriages, and with their lives more generally. When asked just generally about there marital status there was a gerneal relationship to ordinary general mood. When probed with further information such as past times and hobbies then marital status the difference between the two was significantly lower. Just by slightly changing a variable could drastically change the overall result which in relation to hypothetical constructs such as a difficult one to judge such as mood is quite haphazard.

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