Construct Validity in Psychology: Definition & Examples

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  • 0:01 Looking for Construct Validity
  • 0:40 What Is a Construct?
  • 1:23 What Is Construct Validity?
  • 2:51 Threats to Construct Validity
  • 4:45 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Yolanda Williams

Yolanda has taught college Psychology and Ethics, and has a doctorate of philosophy in counselor education and supervision.

In this lesson, we will learn all about the construct validity. Explore the difference between convergent and discriminant validity, the threats to construct validity, and more.

Looking for Construct Validity

Imagine that you are a psychologist, and your client has been reporting feeling fatigued and hopeless as well as loss of appetite. These symptoms fit the definition of depression, but you can't determine the severity of your client's depression just by hearing the symptoms. You look around your office for a tool that can measure your client's level of depression. You find a Beck Depression Inventory (BDI) and come across evidence that shows the BDI is a psychological assessment that accurately measures depression. In this example, the BDI has construct validity. That is, the BDI is able to measure depression, which is the construct you want to measure.

What is a Construct?

Intelligence, motivation, anxiety, and fear are all examples of constructs. In psychology, a construct is a skill, attribute, or ability that is based on one or more established theories. Constructs exist in the human brain and are not directly observable. For example, though you may know a person is smart by the way they speak and what they say, you cannot directly observe intelligence. You can tell someone is anxious if they are trembling, sweating, and restless, but you cannot directly observe anxiety. You also cannot directly observe fear or motivation. They are all complex, abstract concepts that are indirectly observed through a collection of related events.

What is Construct Validity?

Construct validity refers to how well a test or tool measures the construct that it was designed to measure. In other words, to what extent is the BDI measuring depression? There are two types of construct validity: convergent and discriminant validity. Construct validity is established by looking at numerous studies that use the test being evaluated.

Imagine that you wanted to evaluate the construct validity of the BDI. You could perform a differential-groups study by comparing the BDI scores for people who have depression (the construct) to the scores of people who do not have depression. If the group that has depression scores higher on the BDI than the group without depression, this is proof of the construct validity.

Let's say that you had a group of people take both the BDI and the Hamilton Psychiatric Rating Scale for Depression, a previously validated measure of depression. You found that the two tests were highly correlated. This establishes convergent validity, which is how well a test agrees with other previously validated tests that measure the same construct.

Assume that you also had that same group of people take the Hamilton Psychiatric Rating Scale for Anxiety, which is a previously validated test that measures anxiety. You found a low correlation with the Hamilton Rating Scale for Anxiety and the BDI. This establishes discriminant validity, which is the extent to which a test measures what it is supposed to and not some theoretically unrelated construct. Discriminant validity is also referred to as divergent validity.

Threats to Construct Validity

There are several things that can interfere with construct validity. One such issue is not having a solid definition of the construct. For example, Internet addiction is a relatively new illness, and psychologists are still working on ways to define it.

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