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PSYC 2320: Research Methods in Psychology (Woolley)

Finding an Operational Definition

Your first assignment requires you to identify a construct in psychology and provide an operational definition of the construct.


Unlike a definition that you may find in a dictionary, an operational definition refers to conditions that a researcher is able to observe via a measure or test. For instance, Oxford Dictionaries defines "depression as "feelings of severe despondency and dejection." An operational definition of depression, however, will refer to how depression is observed and diagnosed in the field of psychology - in other words, how a specific test measures depression. For isntance, and individual is depressed if they score a certian number on a measurement tool like an inventoryu or test, such as the Beck Depression Inventory.


In order to locate an operational definition, you can use several Library resources, such as the Mental Measurements Yearbook (MMY) with Tests in Print, the Encyclopedia of Psychological Assessment, or PsycINFO. See the next section for more information on how to effectively search these useful databases.

Once you have identified a test you would like to use, you will have to read more about the test in order to identify how the test measures the construct - this will become the basis for the operational definition you use in your assignment.