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Cross-sectional data from the Medical Outcomes Study (MOS) were analyzed to test the validity of the MOS 36-Item Short-Form Health Survey (SF-36) scales as measures of physical and mental health constructs. Results from traditional psychometric and clinical tests of validity were compared. Principal components analysis was used to test for hypothesized physical and mental health dimensions. For purposes of clinical tests of validity, clinical criteria defined mutually exclusive adult patient groups differing in severity of medical and psychiatric conditions. Scales shown in the components analysis to primarily measure physical health (physical functioning and role limitations-physical) best distinguished groups differing in severity of chronic medical condition and had the most pure physical health interpretation. Scales shown to primarily measure mental health (mental health and role limitations-emotional) best distinguished groups differing in the presence and severity of psychiatric disorders and had the most pure mental health interpretation. The social functioning, vitality, and general health perceptions scales measured both physical and mental health components and, thus, had the most complex interpretation. These results are useful in establishing guidelines for the interpretation of each scale and in documenting the size of differences between clinical groups that should be considered very large.