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PSYCH291 Lecture Notes - Dependent And Independent Variables, Random Assignment

Course Code
Joanne Wood

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Variable review
proposed cause: proposed effect:
independent variable dependent variable (sometimes called
“outcome variable”)
predictor variable
For most variables that psychologists are interested in, there is a separation between the variable
at the conceptual level and its manifestation at the operational level. We cannot tap into the
variable directly, but must get at it indirectly, through operationalizations. We can depict this
state of affairs like this:
i.v./predictor d.v.
conceptual level
operational level
Examples of possible definitions of variables at two levels:
Example: anxiety Example: self-esteem
the conceptual level Anxiety is a feeling state
involving negative
thoughts about the future
and unpleasant bodily
self-esteem is one’s overall
evaluation of oneself
the operational level 1. observers’ ratings of
individuals’ fidgeting
2. self-reports on anxiety
3. heart rate
1. Scores on the Rosenberg Self-
esteem Scale (self-report)
2. the degree to which individuals
smile at themselves in the mirror
This separation between the conceptual and operational levels has several implications that we
will talk about throughout the course:
Variables can be operationalized in many different ways.
No single operationalization captures the conceptual variable perfectly.
When evaluating research, one of our main tasks is to ask, How well does the
operationalization capture the conceptual variable it is intended to capture?
Ways that variables can be operationalized:
i.v./predictor: d.v.:
manipulation—exposing different groups of
participants to different conditions (this is when we
call it an independent variable)
numbers or labels to
measurement—assigning numbers or labels to
participants (this is when we call it a predictor)
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