Internal Validity

In experimental research design, internal validity is the appropriateness of the inferences made about cause and effects relationships between the independent and dependent variables. If there are threats to internal validity it may mean that the cause and effect relationship you are trying to establish is not real. In general, there are three categories of external validity, which are..,

  • Participant threats
  • Treatment threats
  • Procedural threats

We will not discuss all three categories but will focus on participant threats

Participant Threats

There are several forms of threats to internal validity that relate to participants. Below is a list

  • History
  • Maturation
  • Regression
  • Selection
  • Mortality


A historical threat to internal validity is the problem of the passages of time from  the beginning to the end of the experiment. During this elapse of time, the groups involved in the study may have different experiences. These different experiences are history threats. One way to deal with this threat is to be sure that the conditions of the experiment are the same.


Maturation threat is the problem of how people change over time during an experiment. These changes make it hard to infer if the results of a study are because of the treatment or because of maturation. One way to deal with this threat is to select participants who develop in similar ways and speed.


Regression threat is the action of the researcher selecting extreme cases to include in their sample. Eventually, these cases regress to the mean, which impacts the results of the pretest or posttest. One option for overcoming this problem is to avoid outliers when selecting the sample.


Selection bias is the poor habit of picking people in a non-random why for an experiment Examples of this include choosing mostly ‘smart people for an experiment. Or working with petite women for a study on diet and exercise. Random selection is the strongest way to deal with this threat.


Mortality is the lost of participants in a study. It is common for participants in a study to dropout and quit for many reasons. This leads to a decrease in the sample size, which weakens the statistical interpretation. Dealing with this requires using larger sample sizes as well as comparing data of dropouts with those who completed the study.


Internal validity can ruin a paper that has not careful planned out how these threats work together to skew results. Researchers need to have an idea of what threats are out there as well as strategies that can alleviate them.

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