Intervening Variables Intervening variables are hypothetical internal states that are used to explain relationships between observed variables, such independent and dependent variables. Intervening variables are not real things. They are interpretations of observed facts, not facts themselves. But they create the illusion of being facts. EXAMPLE learning, memory, motivation, S: attitude, personality, traits, knowledge, understanding, thinking, expectation, intelligence, intention. Intervening Variables Not Real? Lets look again at the experiment by Tolman & Honzik (1930) on latent learning in rats, specifically, the group that received a reward every time they reached the goal box. One of the Independent Variables was the number of practice trials the rats received. They got 1 trial per day, so each rat got an increasing number
of trials. The Dependent Variable was the number of wrong turns (errors) that rats made on a trial. The following graph shows a relationship between the independent variable and the dependent variable. Tolman and Honzik, 1930 Practice Independent Trials Average 0 Errors 2 4 6 8 10 Variable
Errors Learnin Intervening g Dependent Variable Variable Theoretically, an internal state of learning intervened between the independent variable and the dependent variable. It was this state that caused errors to decrease, not the practice trials. 1 10 Trials (1 Trial per Day)
17 Operational Definitions Intervening variables are studied by means of operational definitions, which are descriptions of procedures that are assumed to have some link to the internal state. Operational Definition Practice Independent Trials Variable Learnin g Intervening Variable Operational Definition Errors Dependen
t Variable Operational Definitions Intervening variables have no existence apart from these observed variables. They are just words, interpretations of facts, like theories. Operational Definition Practice Independent Trials Variable Learnin g Intervening Variable Operational Definition Errors Dependen
t Variable Operational Definitions Circular Reasonin g As explanations of behavior, intervening variables can lead to an error in logic called circular reasoning in which you explain something in terms of itself and so dont get beyond the original facts. To avoid circular reasoning, you must have two or more operational definitions of the same internal state, and they must be correlated. Heres an example of circular reasoning that results from having just one operational definition. Operational Definitions GOAL Two rats receive a food reward when
they run from the Start box to the Goal box of a straight alley runway. They get an equal number of practice trials and run equally fast. One day, the rat on the left is observed to run much faster than the rat on the right. Circular Reasonin g GOAL Operational Definitions GOAL Why the difference in running speeds? You may want to explain it in terms of
motivation, defined as an internal state that causes an organism to move toward a goal. More specifically, you could say that the fast rat was hungrier than the slow rat. Circular Reasonin g GOAL Operational Definitions GOAL This is circular reasoning. It sounds like an explanation but it isnt. Running speed toward
a food reward is a legitimate operational definition of hunger. Its OK to infer different levels of hunger from running speeds, but its circular to then use hunger to explain those running speeds. Circular Reasonin g GOAL Operational Definitions Circular Reasonin g Running Speed
defines explain s X Hunger A second operational definition of hunger is needed to break this circle. Operational Definitions Running Speed defines Hunger defines Hours of Food Deprivation
Circular Reasonin g For example, the fast rat may have been deprived of food longer than the slow rat. Hours of food deprivation could be used as an operational definition of hunger. Operational Definitions Running Speed defines Hunger
defines Hours of Food Deprivation Circular Reasonin g Different levels of hunger could be inferred from the different periods of deprivation, and then these hunger levels could be used to explain the different running speeds without circularity. Operational Definitions Running
Speed defines Hunger defines Hours of Food Deprivation Circular Reasonin g The more operational definitions you have that are correlated with each other, the more useful would be the underlying
intervening variable. Operational Definitions Questionnaire Responses define Correlate d? Attitude defines Everyday Behavior Circular Reasonin g By this standard, how useful would
you say are the concepts of attitude, intelligence and personality trait? Observing Internal Events Intervening variables differ from other kinds of internal events that are real and can be directly observed. Conscious experiences are private events that are directly sensed by the individual and not open to observation by others, like self-talk, feelings, and sensations. Biological processes are open to observation by others using appropriate devices, like an EEG machine to measure electrical activity of the brain.
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