Measurement in psychiatry

Martin Prince

in Practical Psychiatric Epidemiology

Published on behalf of Oxford University Press

Published in print August 2003 | ISBN: 9780198515517
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780191754289 | DOI:
Measurement in psychiatry

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The science of the measurement of mental phenomena (psychometrics) is central to quantitative research in psychiatry. Without appropriate, accurate, stable, and unbiased measures, our research is doomed from the outset. Much effort has been expended over the last 40 years in the development of a bewildering array of assessments. Most of our measurement strategies are based on eliciting symptoms, either by asking the participant to complete a self-report questionnaire, or by using an interviewer to question the participant. Some are long, detailed, and comprehensive clinical diagnostic assessments. Others are much briefer, designed either to screen for probable cases, or as scalable measures in their own right, of a trait or dimension such as depression, neuroticism or cognitive function or as measures of an exposure to a possible risk factor for a disease.

Researchers in other medical disciplines sometimes criticise psychiatric measures for being vague or woolly, because they are not based on biological markers of pathology. For this very reason, psychiatry was among the first medical disciplines to develop internationally recognized operationalized diagnostic criteria. At the same time the research interview has become progressively refined, such that the processes of eliciting, recording, and distilling symptoms into diagnoses or scalable traits are now also highly standardized. These criticisms are therefore largely misplaced. Thanks to the careful construction and extensive validation of the better established measures in psychiatric research we can now afford to be slightly more confident of their appropriateness, accuracy, and stability than would be the case even for some biological measurements. This confidence is based on our understanding of the validity and reliability of our measures.

Chapter.  10041 words. 

Subjects: Psychiatry ; Public Health and Epidemiology ; Epidemiology

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