Types of Measurement: Direct, Indirect & Constructs

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  • 0:07 Measurement
  • 1:23 Direct Observations
  • 2:38 Indirect Observations
  • 3:58 Constructs
  • 5:25 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 measure psychological traits? In this lesson, we'll look at how psychologists measure traits, including direct and indirect observation. We will also explore why psychological traits are so difficult to measure.


There's an old stereotype that people with red hair have short tempers. They are often said to be fiery or spirited because they are perceived to be quicker to get angry than people with blonde or brunette hair. But, is this stereotype true?

Imagine that you are a psychologist, and you decide to do a study to see if people with red hair are more temperamental than those with brown or blonde hair. But, how will you know if your subjects are temperamental? For that matter, how will you know if they have red hair?

Psychological measurement is the process of assessing psychological traits, like temperament, perceptions, feelings, and thoughts. In our example, whether a person has a short temper or not is a psychological trait that we want to measure so that we will know which of our subjects is quick to anger and which have a slow fuse.

Of course, sometimes in psychology we have to measure non-psychological traits as well. Remember that we want to know about the difference between redheads and brunettes and blondes. Technically, hair color isn't a psychological trait. But, we want to measure it, just like we want to measure temperament, so that we will know which of our subjects have red hair.

Let's look at several types of measurement, including direct observation, indirect observation, and constructs.

Direct Observation

Okay, so we want to know if redheads are more likely to lose their tempers. The first thing we have to do is to figure out which of our subjects have red hair. This might seem pretty straight-forward: many people would say, 'Just look at them!'

Observing someone's hair color is an example of direct observation, whereby a researcher can look at a person and see the trait they are measuring. Physical characteristics, like hair color, eye color, and body type, are all able to be directly observed.

But, what about temperament? Can we directly observe that? Well, sort of. We can watch subjects interact with somebody and see who loses their temper and who keeps calm. This might give us a clue about what their temperament is like.

Notice, though, that when we observe someone's reaction to others, we are observing their reaction and nothing else. We are not actually observing their temperament; we are seeing their behavior in a situation and making inferences about their temperament.

This is why direct observation can sometimes be tricky in psychological measurement: how do you directly observe things like depression, eating disorders, or schizophrenia? The answer is that you can't. You always have to observe behavior and make inferences based on your observations.

Indirect Observation

Direct observation is a good start when it comes to psychological measurement. We can look at our subjects and see which ones are redheads and which aren't. But, what if we see someone with reddish-brown hair? Is he a brunette or a redhead?

What if we asked him if he considers himself a redhead or a brunette? That would be an example of indirect observation, which is when a psychologist makes an observation based on the observation of another person.

If we ask our subjects to take a survey and check off if they have red hair, brown hair, or blonde hair, we can observe their checkmarks. We are not directly observing their hair color but are making assumptions based on the subjects' own observations.

How do you know what happened during a board meeting of a company? You could look up the minutes of the meeting, which are recorded by someone in the room during the meeting. You aren't in the meeting yourself and therefore aren't directly observing events, but you can take someone else's observations about what happened, which is indirect observation.

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