How Do I Measure What I Can't See?


You may wonder about your first visit to a psychologist, perhaps they asked you what it meant when you yawned? Or, maybe they helped you rethink how you were approaching a problem and encouraged you to find a better perspective. Whatever your experience, psychologists are operating on a set of imagined assumptions. This is true no matter what kind of psychologist you engage.

These imagined realities are necessary because no one can see what motivates behavior. If you think you can't figure out your loved ones, imagine a complete stranger attempting to figure you out!

This imagined reality is not limited to psychologists, human beings make up stories about what motivates their behavior all the time. However, psychologists need to test their stories and see how valid they are. Stories that test true across ages and populations are considered more valid. The more the story is tested, and the more agreement there is, the more likely that story becomes a working theory that psychologists use.

So, how do they measure something that can't be seen?

  1. Psychologists imagine (or make inferences) about unobservable psychological constructs to explain observable behavior. It doesn't mean there right!

  2. That's why psychologists need theories. They need to test their ideas. So, they create a theory about certain psychological characteristics, processes or states and how these unobservable theories (hypothesis) explain observable human behavior.

  3. These theoretical concepts (or latent variables) cannot be directly observed and they include things we are all familiar with: intelligence, self-esteem, attitudes, attachment, hunger, memory, personality traits, depression, trauma, attention, consciousness and on and on!

  4. Then, because psychologists are scientists, they have to measure their theory and find out how valid it is. In order to do this, psychologists have to make up a test that can measure the construct they just made up. How do you measure something you can't see? IT's TRICKY!

  5. In order to measure the construct, psychologists have to assume that the theoretical concept (such as intelligence) "is more than a figment of our imagination" (Furr, 2018, p. 4).

The number one thing I hear from skeptics who argue against researching the impact of the three principles understanding is "how can you research something you can't see?"

Luckily, we are in good company. The field of psychology has struggled with this issue since the beginning. The qualitative research tools developed over the last thirty years, such as phenomenology, heuristic, narrative, and more, are growing in application throughout the whole field. It is a wonderful time to create research that documents the observable behaviors and subjective experiences of three principles practitioners and their programs.

Interested in documenting what's happening in your three principles program? Reach out to me for support.

Check back next week to hear what our grant recipient Jaqueline Hollows is learning about conducting research!

Furr, M. R. (2018). Psychometrics: An introduction. (3rd ed.). Los Angelos, CA: SAGE


#threeprinciples #psychology #Research

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