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
Yolanda Williams

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

Expert Contributor
Jennifer Levitas

Jennifer has a Ph.D. in Psychology. She's taught multiple college-level psychology courses and been published in several academic journals.

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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Additional Activities

Construct Validity Activities

Writing Prompt 1:

One threat to construct validity is experimenter expectation. A psychologist may unintentionally affect the results due to his or her own expectations. If you were a psychologist and you were administering an observational measure of anxiety, wherein you observe a subject and look for specific signs and symptoms of anxiety disorders, what could you do to minimize influencing the data collection due to your own biases and preconceived notions? For example, you may want to have another psychologist rate the same individuals and compare your results, or you may want to have a pool of subjects, some of whom report no anxiety, and remain "blind" to their condition. In two to three paragraphs, describe three or four steps you could take to minimize unconsciously influencing your observations.

Writing Prompt 2:

For this activity, you are an up-and-coming researcher in the field of intelligence. There are many tests of intelligence, but you feel that you could create one that is shorter and simpler, but just as reliable. How could you determine the construct validity of your new measure? For example, you may correlate your measure with the Weschler Adult Intelligence Scale, or WAIS, which is a standardized IQ test that has been validated extensively. List three or four ways in which you could test the construct validity of your new measure.

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