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Psychometrics: studying the human mind through data

Psychometrics: studying the human mind through data

April 5, 2024

Psychology is the science that studies the mind and mental processes. However, these processes are not directly observable by humans or easily quantifiable. We can observe that a person acts extroverted, but it is not easy to determine in what degree it is.

For this reason it has become necessary to design different mechanisms and ways to measure the psychic characteristics. The elaboration of these methods, their application, the analysis of these data and the study of their reliability and validity they are the object of study of psychometrics . Next we will talk about this area of ​​psychology.

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Psychometry as a measure of the psyche

Psychometrics is understood as the discipline that is responsible for the quantitative measurement of mental processes and capacities .

In this way, a numerical value can be assigned to specific characteristics and events, allowing comparison and contrast with other people or with certain criteria that can be used to establish and check theories and hypotheses about the functioning of the mind. Thanks to psychometrics it is possible to quantify and operationalize the psychic , having largely allowed the development of psychology as a science.

Since the mind is something not directly observable, it is necessary to use elements that can indicate the aspect to be treated and the degree to which it is possessed, using observable indicators such as behavior or the record of physiological activity.

In broad strokes we can say that psychometrics employs statistical calculation and analysis of results in order to acquire information about a particular construct (which talks about some psychological aspect) through a measurement element that previously created.

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Which comprises?

As we have seen, psychometrics is the branch of psychology that is responsible for measuring specific aspects of the mind. This supposes, on the one hand, to establish a theory that can link mental characteristics with measurable elements, on the other, the creation of measurement scales, and lastly, the development of mechanisms and instruments that allow such measurement.

The creation of the theory

With regard to the first aspect, psychometrics establishes the possibility of measuring unobservable constructs from elements that can serve to indicate them, as characteristics of the behavior. It also elaborates and establishes how they can be observed and, based on different data, tries to establish what these indicators can be.

The scales

The creation of scales or scaling is another of the basic elements of which psychometry is responsible. These scales allow assigning specific values ​​to the analyzed variables , so that they can be operative and work with them. It is about making a specific variable quantifiable.

The measuring instruments

The third and last of the aforementioned aspects is the creation, from the scales previously elaborated in order to quantify a specific variable, of instruments that allow such measurement.

Clear examples of them are the psychological tests . In this elaboration, we must bear in mind that it is necessary to look for objectivity, consistency, capacity to discriminate between subjects, and to be valid and reliable.

Some relevant concepts

As a discipline that allows the measurement of the unobservable from the observable, psychometrics must take into account various concepts in order to ensure that this measurement is correct and representative. Some of the most relevant concepts are the following.

1. Correlation

The concept of correlation refers to the existence of some kind of link between two variables , which makes changes in one of them coincide with variations in the second, although this does not ensure that the relationship is cause-consequence.

2. Variance and standard deviation

Variance is the degree to which the scores of a test or of the same variable they can get to disperse . The standard deviation refers to how often the scores are expected to be dispersed relative to the average.

3. Reliability

Reliability refers to the degree to which an item or item used in the measurement of a characteristic it does not produce errors , obtaining consistent results in different measurements of the same characteristic in the same subject and context.

4. Validity

Validity is understood as the degree to which the elements we are using to measure is measuring what you want to measure . There are several types of validity, such as for example the construct, the content or the ecological.

A little history

The history of psychology is closely linked to the measurement of characteristics and abilities of individuals. Psychology as a science would not appear until the creation of the first laboratory of psychology at the hands of Wilhelm Wundt, who would begin to perform experiments in which he tried to measure reaction times and would take into account the subjective aspects through the method of introspection .

However, it is considered that the birth of psychometrics dates back to the mid-nineteenth century, when Francis Galton began to work on establishing mechanisms to measure the existence of individual differences between individuals.

Galton would use mechanisms focused on the measurement of physiological elements, his studies being limited to basic processes. But thanks to his studies emerged fundamental concepts in psychometrics, as the principles of correlation between variables and regression , which would eventually be formalized by Karl Pearson, his student.

The first psychological tests

Cattell would devise for the first time the concept of mental test, applying it to the measurement of sensorial capacities, but it would not be until Alfred Binet that scales of measurement of intellectual capacities would begin to be developed. Binet, with his assistant Theodore Simon, created the first scale of intelligence based on functional criteria .

Later, over time, various types of scales would be made, some even used in the army (such as Army Alpha and Army Beta, used to classify soldiers according to their level of intelligence). Later also it would try to take into account the presence of possible cultural biases for a correct analysis of mental capacity.

Spearman would interpret Pearson's correlation , indicating that the presence of a correlation between variables evidences the presence of a common element. Based on this, he would end up generating his theory about the G factor of intelligence.

Later developments

Some of the main authors that allowed the development of psychometrics were mainly the aforementioned Galton, Binet, Pearson and Spearman, although many other authors would have a key participation in this discipline.

Spearman would elaborate the classical theory of tests according to which the scores obtained in the tests They should be compared with the reference group in order to be able to give them a sense, although this limits their reliability and validity to be able to change the results according to who the comparison is made with.

Over time other theories would emerge, as the theory of the response to the item , who would try to combat this limitation, by proposing the test as a way of measuring the level of a subject in a given trait interpreted on the basis of statistical probability. Over time, other tests such as aptitude or personality tests would emerge.

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Some applications and utility of psychometry

Psychometrics is a discipline of special importance for psychology, since it allows to operationalize the different mental processes and make measurements, set criteria, establish comparisons and even develop explanatory and predictive models. In addition, it allows to relate variables and help establish the existence of relationships between them.

All this is necessary in very different areas , as for example in the following.

Clinical psychology

The different tests and measures of psychological evaluation are of great importance in clinical practice. Being able to make measurements regarding mental characteristics or states allows us to visualize and get an idea of ​​the state and severity of the subject , as well as prioritize certain aspects during the treatment according to the characteristics of the patient.

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The psychological and neuropsychological tests and evaluations they give us clues as to how the mental capacities of a subject are compared to an established criterion, the population mean or their own state in previous measurements.

Development evaluation

Throughout our life cycle we develop our abilities in a certain way. The presence of alterations in said development it can be detected thanks to various procedures elaborated thanks to psychometry, allowing to foresee and treat dysfunctional elements that hinder the adaptation of the person to the environment.

Capacity assessment

Characteristics of personality, abilities and abilities they are some of the multiple elements whose possibility of measurement has arisen from instruments elaborated thanks to psychometrics.

Human Resources

Determining the ability of an individual to cope with a particular job is not an easy task. The hiring or non-hiring of an individual he must take into account his level of ability and his mental state in order to detect the level of adaptation to the position and the company.

This assessment is carried out through interviews with the candidates, as well as through psychometric tests that reflect their level of ability in different aspects.


Psychology is a science that advances continuously. Research is an essential element in order to get a better understanding of the psyche and reality. Establishing relationships between different situations and / or stimuli and / or generating data that can be contrasted are key aspects in this process, for which psychometrics is essential as the basis for the creation of measurement methods.

Measuring Personality: Crash Course Psychology #22 (April 2024).

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