Research Methods

Operational Definitions

(Return to the Methods page)

Did you rate the people in the pictures as differentially attractive? On what basis did you make your decision about attractiveness?


How do you define attractiveness?

If you don't have a good, objective way to measure attractiveness, how can you identify who is more or less attractive? A useful definition of attractiveness will be objective, which means that it can be measured by anybody and the measurement will end up being the same, regardless of who is doing the measuring.

We need operational definitions in order to measure complex constructs that are not easily defined. Attractiveness is complex and people have different opinions about what constitutes it. In order to make objective measurements of attractiveness, what do we have to do?

How do we get an objective measurement of "cattiness"?

Only by creating an objective operational definition will we be able to measure our construct reliably. Reliability is the first important step in creating a useful operational definition. We also have to make sure that our definition makes sense for the purposes for which we want it; that is, it has to show validity.

CONTROVERSY: Are woman more "catty" than men?

A psychologist from York University in Toronto, Maryanne Fisher, presented pictures of women and of men to research participants. The participants rated the attractiveness of the people in the pictures. She found that women with high estrogen levels, that is, women who most highly fertile, gave significantly lower ratings to pictures of women than did women who had lower estrogen levels. The women didn't change their ratings of men as a function of estrogen level.

Could we define "catty" as giving lower ratings to pictures of women while one has a high estrogen level? If not, how could you define it operationally?

(Return to the Methods page)

Last modified: August 2, 2005