Latent v. Observable Variables

Fundamentals of Social Statistics

 

There is a big difference between variables that we can directly observe and the more abstract variables that cannot be observed that we refer to as constructs.  One way to look at constructs is as nonobservables.  This is related to what are called latent variablesLatent variables are unobserved “things” that a researcher presumes to underlie an observable variable.  Intelligence is a common example of a latent variable.  We cannot directly measure intelligence, but we can observe things that we think are related to it, such as verbal ability and mathematical ability (operationalized as scores on a standardized test).

Latent variables are unobserved “things” that a researcher presumes to underlie an observable variable.

Most of the problems that social scientists are interested in are latent variables.  We as social scientists are not interested in specific children hitting each other on the playground; our real concern is understanding the latent variable aggression.  We are not interested in a child’s ability to select correct responses on a test; we are interested in the latent variable intelligence.  Generally, we cannot measure these variables.  Thus, we are forced to measure behaviors that we think indicate the presence of the latent (unobservable) variable that we are interested in.


Key Terms

Scales (Levels) of Measurement, Nominal, Ordinal, Interval, Ratio, Absolute Zero, Latent Variables


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Last Modified:  06/29/2018

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