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The Importance of Measurement in the Research Process

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Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

Measurement is a necessary part of the research process in psychology. Examine the importance of measurement by first learning to define it then explore the three common types of measures found in psychological research. Updated: 09/27/2021

Measurement

Imagine that you are a psychologist. There's a new type of treatment for depression that you think will really help many people. But, how do you know for sure?

You could try it out on a friend of yours. He was depressed before, and after the treatment, he's fine. Does that mean it will work for other people? Your friend is a man; will it work on women? He's from a big city; will it work on people from small towns? Did the treatment help your friend, or was he just going to get better on his own?

These are the questions that psychological research has to deal with. In order to show that your treatment works on many different people, you have to do a psychological study. You'll gather a bunch of different depressed people, and you'll give half of them your treatment and the other half no treatment. After a while, you'll see if there's a difference in the people who got your treatment and the people who didn't get any treatment.

But, how do you measure depression? How do you tell if there's a difference between your patients and the people who didn't get treatment? Psychological measurement involves assessing, or measuring, people's traits. Psychological measurement can look at many different aspects of psychology, from intelligence tests to how quickly a person reacts to a sound they hear.

Let's go back to our scenario above. You want to see if the people who received your treatment for depression end up any better than the people who did not receive it. If they do, then you have evidence that your treatment works. But first, you have to find a way to measure the levels of depression in people. This could be through having them fill out a questionnaire, or it could be through some other type of measurement. Let's look closer at the importance of measurement in psychological research and how it is used in the real world.

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Importance

So, why is measurement important? What does it actually tell us? Measurement gives us a picture of what's going on. Imagine that I ask you how long your desk is. How are you going to tell me? Will you get out a ruler and give me the number of inches? Will you place your hand down and let me know that it is nine hands across?

Whether you use a ruler or your hand, your measure will let you communicate with me about the length of your desk. That's all that measurement is: a way to understand what's going on and communicate it to others so that they, too, will understand.

In psychological research, you are comparing one thing to another. This could be comparing two groups, like doing a study to see if men are better at math problems than women, or it could be comparing changes over time, like our study on whether people given your treatment for depression become less depressed after the treatment.

Either way, you want to see if there are differences. In order to see that, you have to measure something: the number of math problems that participants answered correctly or the number of depression symptoms patients suffer from.

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