Imagine you are a college senior. For the past three years, you've seen and met a variety of academic challenges. You've endured grueling daily lectures, tutored struggling students, participated in numerous class projects, and written endless essays and papers. In every case, you completed your assignments promptly and well.
However, this time is different. Sitting in class early in the term listening, you look dumb-struck as Professor Stickler--a strict disciplinarian with a demanding teaching style--describes an assignment that leaves you wondering why you majored in psychology.
It all starts routinely enough. Professor Stickler announces that the semester would be dedicated, as is this paper, to exploring a concept that most people take for granted: measurement. Professor Stickler says: "We usually think of measurement as a person's or an object's dimensions, quantity, or capacity, which, of course, it is. But it is also much more." The professor pauses while reaching for the Oxford English Dictionary, then continues, "This dictionary, the unassailable authority on our language, allots over four pages of text to measurement and its many manifestations (Perloff, 1994). Why?" Professor Stickler pauses again. "The answer should be obvious. Just look around and you will see some sort of measurement in nearly every area of life."
During the rest of the hour, Stickler cites dozens of ways that measures lend order and undfirstanding to the world. But, in keeping with Stickler's style, the first examples are from space. You learn that a light-year is equivalent to 5.88 trillion miles, a nearly unimaginable distance, but it pales in significance as Stickler recounts how astronomers have used light-years to measure the seemingly infinite vastness of the entire universe--which is still expanding. Stickler then returns to Earth and reminds you of the many everyday instances where measures are evident. Units of weight, area, and time allow us to conceptualize, for example, a ton of bricks, 40 acres, and a millennium. One buys a dozen roses, wears a size 8, adds a pinch of salt, checks the Dow Jones Averages, compares prices, scans the headlines, keeps score, measures the opposition, and drives 55 miles per hour. Stickler drones on and on, while you, somewhat bored, think, "True, measures are common and necessary, and we tend to ignore them, but what does that have to do with psychology?" You are about to find out.
Over the next several weeks, the class takes a guided tour of the evolution of modern psychology. You learn, of course, about Wundt and Watson and Freud and Jung, each pioneers in their respective areas. Not one to leave a stone unturned, Stickler then covers the contributions of noteworthy others: Pavlov, James, Harlow, Erikson, Rogers, and Skinner, to mention a few. Throughout these lectures (nearly a month of them), Stickler repeatedly stresses that the theories of these early pathfinders would have been meaningless--that they would have amounted to little more than unsubstantiated speculation--unless their underlying concepts could be measured. To underscore this point, Stickler declares, emphatically, "Measurement is the cornfirstone of science. In fact, just as in the physical sciences, advances in psychology are proportional to advances in measurement. As Robert Pool (1988) stated in the case of the physical sciences, "These advances are vital, because science's undfirstanding of the physical world is limited by the accuracy with which science can measure that world."
At the beginning of the next class, Professor Stickler asks how many students hope to live the good life. Every hand in the room shoots up. Stickler then asks for a definition of a "good life"; not a hand stirs. Stickler continues, "Is it happiness, and if so, how is it measured? Can you collect a sample of it, cup it in your hands, and then examine it under a microscope?" You smile at the absurdity of Stickler's questions, and think, "If happiness does not lend itself to precise quantification, then how does one measure it, and the kaleidoscope of other forces, that shape attitudes and behavior?" Stickler echoes your thoughts, and explains that generations of researchers have responded to this problem by developing a vast array of measures or instruments that indirectly assess people's psychological states.
Most numerous are the traditional "paper-and-pencil" tests, questionnaires, checklists, inventories, rating scales, and interview schedules, many of which now have computerized versions or scoring systems. Stickler then reviews instruments that employ alternative methods. For example, Csikszentmihalyi and Larson (1987) devised the Experience Sampling Measurement, a measurement technique that uses an electronic pager to signal participants to record their feelings as they go about their daily activities. Vallacher, Nowak, and Kaufman (1994) created their appropriately titled "mouse paradigm," a method designed to assess people's social judgments based solely on where they position a cursor on a computer screen.
Stickler continues this emphasis up to and through the midterm examination. Immersed in measures and measurement issues, you struggle to grasp concepts such as construct validity, internal consistency, forced-choice, ratio scale, multitrait-multimethod matrix, measurement modeling, and Cronbach's alpha. You take copious notes, do the assigned readings, and try to appear knowledgeable in class discussions. This strategy must have worked, for your midterm grade is a B+. At this point, you learn that in place of a final exam, Stickler has devised an assignment in which you must explore a particular construct that he will speak to shortly.
Although you do find this information of interest, you uncomfortably await Dr. Stickler's assignment which then follows all too quickly, but is, you agree, appropriate to your immediate feelings. The assignment concerns the construct of anxiety. Each student is required to select two instruments designed to assess anxiety and to compare and contrast the measures for a class presentation.
Topics to be addressed could include: strengths, weaknesses, theoretical orientation, type of measure (e.g., questionnaire, interview schedule, checklist, vignettes) intended population (e.g., children, adolescents, the elderly, college presidents), number of questions. Professor Stickler then posts a sheet for students to list their selected titles as soon as they have identified them, because no instrument may appear twice.
Now, you do become anxious. With 20 students in your class, you realize that 40 different measures need to be located, and you wonder whether there are as many as 40 instruments to measure anxiety. Surely, you think, Professor Stickler would not make such a demand, if this were not the case.
The thought urges you to get started as soon as the period ends, but where to start? As you leave class, a friend recalls seeing an instrument store around the corner. Sounds good, you think, and decide to make this your first stop, although you wonder can it be so easy.
Of course, you should have known better, and you head for a more likely source: the library. At the Reference Desk, you request information on how to find materials about measurement instruments for the behavioral and social sciences. The librarian quickly directs you to a section containing several shelves of relevant books. Feeling better, you begin to review their contents. After several hours of browsing and finding interesting but not specifically useful information, you return to the Reference Desk and ask about other sources you could consult. The librarian then refers you to The Mental Measurements Yearbooks (Buros, 1938-1978; Conoley & Impara, 1989, 1995; Cramer & Conoley, 1992; Impara & Blake, 1998; Mitchell, 1989) and Test Critiques (Keyser & Sweetland, 1984-1994), both containing reviews of commercially produced tests. But the prospect of wading through 13- and 11-volume collections does little to lessen your growing anxiety.
At this point, the librarian asks if you have consulted the Ovid Technologies online databases, especially PsychINFO (American Psychological Association), Medline (National Library of Medicine), and HaPI (Behavioral Measurement Database Services). You are familiar with the first two, which are abstract databases of information on the behavioral and medical literature, respectively. The last database, however, is less familiar. You inquire further and learn that HaPI is the acronym for Health and Psychosocial Instruments, a computerized database that consists of more than 60,000 records describing tests, questionnaires, checklists, interview schedules, and other types of measures used in the health and psychosocial sciences.
At first, you refuse to believe that a database dedicated solely to instruments exists, but after typing the word "anxiety" and seeing the results, you have a change of heart. HaPI returns more than enough anxiety measures! That's not all, for you notice that many of the records contain additional information about the instrument, such as the number of questions, a statement of purpose, response formats, and relevant references. You quickly realize that HaPI provides the necessary information to complete your assignment. Moreover, the anxiety that has accompanied you since you started this project now gives way to a welcome sense of well-being. But what's happened to your fingers!
Buros, O. K. (Ed.). (1938-1978). The first-eighth mental measurements yearbooks. Lincoln: University of Nebraska, Buros Institute of Mental Measurements.
Conoley, J. C., & Impara, J. C. (Eds.). (1989). The tenth mental measurements yearbook. Lincoln: University of Nebraska, Buros Institute of Mental Measurements.
Conoley, J. C., & Impara, J. C. (Eds.). (1995). The twelfth mental measurements yearbook. Lincoln: University of Nebraska, Buros Institute of Mental Measurements.
Cramer, J. J., & Conoley, J. C. (Eds.). (1992). The eleventh mental measurements yearbook. Lincoln: University of Nebraska, Buros Institute of Mental Measurements.
Csikszentmihalyi, M., & Larson, R. (1987). The Experience Sampling Method. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 175, 526-536.
Impara, J. C., & Blake, B. S. (Eds.). (1998). The thirteenth mental measurements yearbook. Lincoln: University of Nebraska, Buros Institute of Mental Measurements.
Keyser, D. J., & Sweetland, R. C. (Eds.). (1984-1994). Test critiques (Vols. I - X). Austin, TX: pro-ed.
Mitchell, J. V., Jr. (Ed.). (1989). The ninth mental measurements yearbook. Lincoln: University of Nebraska, Buros Institute of Mental Measurements.
Perloff, R. (1994). For good measure. The Behavioral Measurement Letter, 1(1), 4-5.
Pool, R. (1988). Advances in measurement science. Science, 240, 604-605.
Vallacher, R. R., Nowak, A., & Kaufman, J. (1994). Intrinsic dynamics of social judgment. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 67, 20-34.
For more information about psychological instruments or the HaPI database, contact Evelyn Perloff, PhD, at BMDS, PO Box 110287, Pittsburgh, PA 15232-0787.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS: Daniel Moore earned his MA from the University of Pittsburgh. As an undergraduate, Moore participated in the National Honors Society Honor Lecture Series and the 1987 and 1988 Northeast Region of the National Collegiate Honors Councils at Providence College and Syracuse University. As a graduate student, he completed a research project for the Center for Social History exploring novel ways historians measure the past. His awards and distinctions include an undergraduate Intercession Travel Award to China and three graduate fellowship awards. Moore is chief analyst at Behavioral Measurement Database Services.
Fred Bryant is professor of psychology at Loyola University, Chicago. He has 80 publications in social psychology, personality psychology, measurement, and behavioral medicine. In addition, he has coedited five books. Dr. Bryant has extensive consulting experience in many applied set-tings, including marketing firms, medical schools, and public school systems, and has been a methodological expert for the U.S. Government Accounting Office and an expert witness in several federal court cases involving social science research evidence. His current research interests include happiness, psychological well-being, Type A behavior, the measurement of cognition and emotion, and structural equation modeling.
Evelyn Perloff is founder and director of Behavioral Measurement Database Services, the producer of Health and Psychosocial Instruments (HaPI). In addition to working in the public sector and for the federal government, Dr. Perloff was a professor at the University of Pittsburgh, Northwestern University, and Purdue University. At Purdue, she founded and served as the first faculty advisor to an active and productive Psi Chi chapter. Her interests and publications have been directed primarily to measurement issues in health psychology.
Winter 1999 issue of Eye on Psi Chi (Vol. 3, No. 2, pp. 17-19), published by Psi Chi, The National Honor Society in Psychology (Chattanooga, TN). Copyright, 1999, Psi Chi, The National Honor Society in Psychology. All rights reserved.