On the Value of Homogeneous Constructs for Construct Validation, Theory Testing, and the Description of Psychopathology

Gregory T. Smith, Denis M. McCarthy, Tamika C.B. Zapolski

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

152 Scopus citations


The authors argue for a significant shift in how clinical psychology researchers conduct construct validation and theory validation tests. They argue that sound theory and validation tests can best be conducted on measures of unidimensional or homogeneous constructs. Hierarchical organizations of such constructs are useful descriptively and theoretically, but higher order composites do not refer to definable psychological processes. Application of this perspective to the approach of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders to describing psychopathology calls into doubt the traditional use of the syndromal approach, in which single scores reflect the presence of multidimensional disorders. For many forms of psychological dysfunction, this approach does not appear optimal and may need to be discarded. The authors note that their perspective represents a straightforward application of existing psychometric theory, they demonstrate the practical value of adopting this perspective, and they provide evidence that this shift is already under way among clinical researchers. Description in terms of homogeneous dimensions provides improved validity, utility, and parsimony. In contrast, the use of composite diagnoses can retard scientific progress and hamper clinicians' efforts to understand and treat dysfunction.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)272-284
Number of pages13
JournalPsychological Assessment
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2009


  • construct definitions
  • construct validation
  • diagnostic progress
  • homogeneity
  • valid diagnosis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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