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 variables*. **Latent 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 variablesare 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**

Last Modified: 06/003/2021