The Validity of Measurement: Definition, Importance & Types

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  • 0:05 Validity
  • 1:01 Importance
  • 2:16 Constructs
  • 3:57 Types
  • 5:58 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

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

How do you know if you are measuring what you actually want to measure? In this lesson, we'll look at what validity is, why it is important, and four major types of validity: face, construct, content, and predictive validity.


Imagine that you wake up one morning with a cold. You're coughing and sneezing and just generally feeling icky. You think you might have a fever, but you're not sure. You get out your thermometer and stick it in your mouth. But when you take it out, the thermometer reads 72 degrees, which is the temperature in your house, not the temperature of your body.

In psychology, there are many different tools used to measure traits. Surveys, observation, brain scans, saliva samples: these are just a few of the many different tools used in psychological measurement. But, what happens when a tool doesn't measure what it's supposed to measure?

Validity is the extent to which a measurement tool measures what it's supposed to measure. Remember your thermometer? It's measuring the room temperature, not your body temperature. Since it's supposed to be measuring your body temperature, the thermometer is not valid.


In the case of the thermometer, we can easily see why validity is important: without it, we don't know what our body temperature is, but what about in the case of psychological measurement? For example, imagine that we want to measure how empathetic a person is. We write a survey to find out how much people understand and feel emotions for the plight of others.

If our survey has a high validity, it does a good job of measuring empathy in people. If it has a medium level of validity, it might be measuring something else, like altruism or guilt-motivated behavior. While both of these might be linked to empathy, they are not empathy. And, if our survey has low validity, it might be measuring something else entirely, like intelligence or extroversion.

But even if it's measuring extroversion or intelligence instead of empathy, who cares? Why is validity important? If we think that we are measuring one thing, but we're actually measuring something else, then it won't give us the information we need. Just as your thermometer didn't tell you whether or not you have a fever, our survey won't tell us how much empathy people have, which is what we want to know.


But, why wouldn't every psychological measure have validity? After all, we're writing the survey; why don't we just write it to measure empathy? That's easier said than done because empathy is a construct, or idea that cannot be directly observed.

Think about it like this: you can't see or touch or taste empathy. You can observe behaviors that indicate empathy but not empathy itself. For example, maybe you see someone giving a dollar to a homeless man or helping an old woman cross the street. These behaviors hint that the person might have empathy. But, empathy isn't like the color of someone's hair. You can't look at it and say, 'Oh, yes. I can see that so-and-so has blonde empathy today.'

Almost all psychological traits are constructs. Intelligence, depression, empathy, prejudice, resilience - these are all psychological traits, and none of them can be directly observed. Instead, psychologists have to look at the people's words and behaviors and draw inferences about how those words and behaviors might relate to the underlying construct.

But, what if what you think is related to an underlying construct really isn't? For example, what if the person we saw giving the homeless guy a dollar is helping because he wants to impress his date, not because he feels empathy? What if the person helping the old woman across the street is only doing it to clear the crosswalk so she can drive through it? Because we are always making inferences, and those inferences can be wrong, some measurement tools end up with low validity.


There are several major types of validity:

1. Face validity is when a tool subjectively appears to measure a construct.

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