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In scientific theory a hypothetical construct is an explanatory variable which is not directly observable. For example, the concepts of intelligence and motivation are used to explain phenomena in psychology, but neither is directly observable. A hypothetical construct differs from an intervening variable in that it has properties and implications which have not been demonstrated in empirical research. These serve as a guide to further research. An intervening variable is a summary of observed empirical findings.
Cronbach and Meehl define a hypothetical construct as a concept for which there is not a single observable referent, which cannot be directly observed, and for which there exist multiple referents, but none all-inclusive. For example, according to Cronbach and Meehl a fish is not a hypothetical construct because, despite variation in species and varieties of fish, there is an agreed upon definition for a fish with specific characteristics that distinguish a fish from a bird. Furthermore, a fish can be directly observed. On the other hand a hypothetical construct has no single referent; rather, hypothetical constructs consist of groups of functionally related behaviors, attitudes, processes, and experiences. Instead of seeing intelligence, love, or fear we see indicators or manifestations of what we have agreed to call intelligence, love, or fear. Other examples of hypothetical constructs include gravity, creativity, menopause, and guilt.