In scientific terms, the is called an operational definition.
For anything that we might wish to measure, there are many different operational definitions, and which one we use depends on the goal of the research and the type of situation we are studying.
It is this complexity—at least for me—that makes studying people so interesting and fun.
One important aspect of using an empirical approach to understand social behavior is that the concepts of interest must be measured (Figure 1.7, “The Operational Definition”).
But although we do learn about people by observing others and therefore social psychology is in fact partly common sense, social psychology is not entirely common sense.
To test for yourself whether or not social psychology is just common sense, try taking the short quiz in Table 1.1, “Is Social Psychology Just Common Sense?
Although it is easy to ask many questions on self-report measures, these measures have a potential disadvantage.
As we have seen, people’s insights into their own opinions and their own behaviors may not be perfect, and they might also not want to tell the truth—perhaps Sarah really likes Robert, but she is unwilling or unable to tell us so.
For example, an operational definition of Sarah’s liking for Robert might involve asking her to complete the following measure: The operational definition would be the average of her responses across the three questions.
Because each question assesses the attitude differently, and yet each question should nevertheless measure Sarah’s attitude toward Robert in some way, the average of the three questions will generally be a better measure than would any one question on its own.