What is Face Validity?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 13 May 2020
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If a test appears to be valid to participants or observers, it is said to have face validity. Face validity is one among many parameters used to assess the value of an experiment or test, and to gather information about how the experiment was conducted, and how applicable the results will be. However, it is not a perfect measurement, as assessments of face validity are very much based on personal experience; what seems valid and reasonable to one person may seem weak to another.

A classic use for this parameter is in the construction of a test or experiment. A researcher who wants to test something in an experimental situation would devise a test, and then ask for review from peers to determine whether or not the test is ethical, and whether or not the test will actually measure what the creator thinks it measures. For example, a researcher who wanted to test vocabulary of young children might propose showing children flashcards with terms and asking the children to define them, and some people might agree that the experiment has face validity, because it would appear to measure vocabulary skills in the test subjects.

The issue can get extremely complex with more nuanced experiments. The more detailed and complex the experiment, the trickier it can be to determine face validity. Experts in a field, for example, may say that the test is not valid, while laypeople may have the test explained to them and think that it sounds entirely reasonable. This is one reason why people are expected to submit proposed experiments for review by a group of their peers, and to request peer review for their results before publication, so that experts can weigh in on the situation.

Several things are considered when evaluating an experiment for face validity. The first is a simple measure of whether or not it will do what it is supposed to do. Consistency and reliability are also concerns; reviewers want to know that the results are reliable, and also that the results are repeatable. If a test protocol cannot be repeated, the results of the experiment will be regarded as questionable by the scientific community.

Asking for an evaluation of face validity is always a good idea. Having a fresh pair of eyes examine a protocol or planned test can point out flaws and issues which might not be apparent to the creator. Review also gives creators a chance to get feedback before they start, which can allow a test creator to adjust the test before it starts or to specifically address particular concerns in the writeup of the results.

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Post 3

@feruze - I don't think that face validity is as important as getting statistical data and evidence to back up what you are doing.

What if you are questioned about the validity of your test by an official agency after you use the test? You can't say, "oh my colleagues said that it is a valid test." You have to have proof. You have to have statistical proof and you have to have content validity from experts of that subject about the method you used and how you prepared and carried out the test or experiment.

Post 2

@feruze-- I agree with you. Face validity is not really a formal measure of validity. As the article says, opinions about face validity can be different for different people.

I think asking your peers about face validity is good for getting feedback. Just like I do with my professors when I'm deciding on a thesis for a paper, you should check with people in that field if your test or experiment makes sense to them.

Post 1

I think it would be wrong if someone simply relied on face validity to carry out an experiment and use its results without evidence. But if face validity is used as a first step to figure out whether an experiment is worth doing or not, then it serves a good purpose.

If I were to carry on with an experiment without even checking for face validity first, I can end up wasting a lot of time on an experiment that doesn't measure what I want it to for example. But the experiment should not rely solely on face validity to prove something either.

What do you think? Do you agree?

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