Face Validity ( A Comprehensive Guide)


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Page last updated: 12/10/2022

Face Validity

In this article, we will learn about validity and face validity.

Almost every science in the world is based on testing and measurements and without measurements, there is no concept of science.

Psychology is no different and it has a whole branch of it dedicated to scientific testing and measurements and it is called psychometrics. It deals with some qualities of tests that make them worthwhile.

Psychometrics also tells you how a test should be and how it should not be. Like validity, reliability is also very important in an experiment or research. For example, split half reliability is also a part of psychometrics.

It is one of the most important branches in psychology because it provides information about the very basic step of understanding of a disorder as well as diagnosis.

Psychometrics tells us about the characteristics of a good or valid test.

These characteristics define the good test and mainly include standardization, norms, validity, and reliability.

These characteristics make the test statistically significant. 

A test that is higher on all of these characteristics is more valuable and is most commonly used because these characteristics increase the test’s worth.

All of these are essential for a good test but what counts the most is the fact that a test should measure what it intends to measure and not otherwise.

Validity is the test’s characteristic which tells us if the test measures what it intends to measure.

Moreover, validity is not as simple as it looks and it has many other types too.

There are four other types of validity and we shall discuss these types briefly in the article given below.

However, the main focus of the article remains one type of validity known as face validity.

We shall discuss more the face validity in this article.

Before we get into the details of face validity, we should first learn about what validity actually is and how it affects the test.

Then we shall move forward to discuss its types and about-face validity. 

  • What is validity?

The two most important methods of measurement in qualitative research are mainly reliability and validity.

Validity is defined as “the quality of being logically and factually sound”.

The validity of a test tells you how accurately a method measures something which it intends to measure.

If the test or method measures what it is made to measure and it is closely related to real-world values then the test or the method is considered valid.

Validity is considered as an important measure of a standard test and it has different types.

We shall discuss these types in brief before moving towards our main topic of face validity.

Face Validity ( A Comprehensive Guide)


  • Types of Validity

The four types of validity which are seen in a valid test are as follows.

  • Construct Validity
  • Content Validity
  • Criterion Validity
  • Face Validity

Moreover, an experimental research design also deals with the external and internal validity which is essential to the experimental method used in the research.

Internal and external validity is also essential for the generalizability of the findings of experimental research.

Let me tell you what these validities are and how these are different from face validity. 

  • What is construct validity?

A construct is a concept or characteristic which cannot be directly observed but it is measurable with the help of observing other indicators related to that construct.

It can be a characteristic of an individual like his emotional intelligence or anxiety or mood.

The construct can also be used in a broader perspective related to communities and social groups.

Therefore, construct validity tells you if the measurement tool really represents the things we want to measure in the first place.

It is one of the main ingredients in establishing the validity of a tool or a method.

For example, we can measure depression even though it is not an entity or an object.

  • What is content validity?

Content validity tells you if the tool or the method you just developed is representative of all aspects of the construct.

All the relevant aspects of the construct should be covered in the tool which it aims to measure.

The test won’t be valid if all the aspects are not included in it.

For instance, if some of the symptoms of depression are not included in the test, the test will not have content validity.

  • What is criterion validity?

The criterion is an external measure that is available to compare the tool in hand and you can calculate the correlation between the results of criterion and the tool you have developed.

This validity determines if the test of your developed tools are corresponding to the results of different tests on similar constructs.

A high correlation is an indicator of higher criterion validity and vice versa.

If a researcher develops a new tool for depression he can establish the criterion validity by giving the test to the clinical population on a trial basis and then comparing the results to a previously valid tool for measuring depression. 

  • What is face validity?

If we could explain it in only a few words then face validity is considered the characteristic of a tool in which the tool is suitable for the content it intends to measure.

In simpler terms, if you look at the tool, do you actually think that the test measures what it aims to measure?

Face validity has an element of subjectivity in it and that is why it is considered a weaker form of validity.

If you have developed a survey for the screening of depression and it includes all the items related to low mood and lack of energy then the tool is considered to have face validity. 

  • Explaining Face Validity

It is also known as logical validity and is the simplest form of validity and mostly used in superficial and subjective assessments in order to know if your method of measurement measures what it intends to measure.

Just imagine the word ‘face value’ and understand its concept and you will also get the gist of face validity.

This is mostly used to make an idea or opinion about something.

Face validity is often used as a form of validity which is applied easily in the body of research.

It is mostly not included in the cluster of objective measurements and considered the weakest of all the validities. 

Let me explain this with the help of an example, say you want to measure intelligence with the help of IQ tests and the test is only valid if it measures intelligence accurately.

Say, the tests which were initially designed for the field of IQ or intelligence measurement had pictures of missing pieces like a missing tennis ball from a tennis court etc.

These tests were considered to have face validity because they seemed to be a fair measure of intelligence for people who are not native English speakers and do not know how to speak English.

Pictures are known to be a universal language and the test seemed to fulfill that requirement.

However, these tests were found to be biased against the poor because they might not even have seen a tennis court in their life.

Some other groups and communities also take offense as they thought these tests were biased against them too.

Hence despite having the face validity, these tests were not considered valid. 

  • Why Use Face Validity

A question that is most often asked is that if face validity is considered the weakest one then why use it at all?

It seems like a fair question because face validity is considered weaker as well as subjective.

However, when it comes to judging a tool or a design of the research or a research proposal sent to some of the experts it becomes harder for them to evaluate thoroughly using different methods.

That’s where the face validity helps the researcher in standing his grounds of conducting that research.

If the face validity is higher in the scrutiny then the proposal gets passed the scrutiny and if it is not the proposal will be rejected.

Face validity helps the expert find flaws in the project and they reject it before measuring any other type of validity.

The experts can easily decide on the basis of face validity if they want to spend money and time on the presented proposal or not.

It most commonly happens in educational and social sciences where it is difficult to measure content validity.

Scientific methods are also difficult to apply in most of the social scientific settings so judgment and experience make up for the lack of scientific method and its application. 

  • Examples of Face Validity Use

A paper written by health experts revealed the cause of lung cancer to be excessive sleeping or disturbed sleep patterns.

When it is presented to a group of experts, they can’t confirm it by using an experimental design but they study the paper and they find a lot of flaws in the research design they can reject the paper and its conclusions.

Here face validity which is the weakest form of validity has become their strength.

Moreover, it is also used in pure sciences too, and not only in the social sciences..

FAQ about-face Validity

How is face validity determined?

Face validity is measured by an expert who is reviewing the tool or the method by looking at it and then agreeing if these items actually measure what they intend to measure just on the face of it.

Even though it is weaker it is known to be mostly used in developing research projects.

What do face validity and content validity have in common?

Content validity sees if the test or the tool measures the content which is intended to measure initially while face validity tells us if the content actually appears to be found upfront in the tool or method.

Face validity is apparent and more subjective as compared to content validity which seems hidden.

Is it important for the test to have face validity? 

The simplest answer would be yes, it is essentially important for the test or tool to have face validity. It shows to the reader or the person who is evaluating the tool for you that the tool is worth using because it measures what it intends to measure.

Moreover, it will also get the tool through the subjective scrutiny of some experts.

However, having face validity alone does not guarantee a valid test. 

  • References
  1. Shuttleworth, M. (2009, March). Face Validity. Retrieved from Explorable.com
  2. Stephanie. (2015, June). Face Validity: Definitions and Examples. Retrieved from Statisticshowto.com
  3. Middleton, F. (2019. September). The four types of validity. Retrieved from Scribbr.com