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Bollen, Kenneth A.; Lilly, Adam G.; & Luo, Lan (Online ahead of print). Selecting Scaling Indicators in Structural Equation Models (Sems). Psychological Methods. PMCID: PMC10275390


It is common practice for psychologists to specify models with latent variables to represent concepts that are difficult to directly measure. Each latent variable needs a scale, and the most popular method of scaling as well as the default in most structural equation modeling (SEM) software uses a scaling or reference indicator. Much of the time, the choice of which indicator to use for this purpose receives little attention, and many analysts use the first indicator without considering whether there are better choices. When all indicators of the latent variable have essentially the same properties, then the choice matters less. But when this is not true, we could benefit from scaling indicator guidelines. Our article first demonstrates why latent variables need a scale. We then propose a set of criteria and accompanying diagnostic tools that can assist researchers in making informed decisions about scaling indicators. The criteria for a good scaling indicator include high face validity, high correlation with the latent variable, factor complexity of one, no correlated errors, no direct effects with other indicators, a minimal number of significant overidentification equation tests and modification indices, and invariance across groups and time. We demonstrate these criteria and diagnostics using two empirical examples and provide guidance on navigating conflicting results among criteria. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2022 APA, all rights reserved).


Reference Type

Journal Article

Year Published

Online ahead of print

Journal Title

Psychological Methods


Bollen, Kenneth A.
Lilly, Adam G.
Luo, Lan

Article Type





Bollen - 0000-0002-6710-3800
Lilly - 0000-0002-3740-1540