Thanks Coefficient Alpha, We’ll Take It From Here

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Abstract

Empirical studies in psychology commonly report Cronbach’s alpha as a measure of internal consistency reliability despite the fact that many methodological studies have shown that Cronbach’s alpha is riddled with problems stemming from unrealistic assumptions. In many circumstances, violating these assumptions yields estimates of reliability that are too small, making measures look less reliable than they actually are. Although methodological critiques of Cronbach’s alpha are being cited with increasing frequency in empirical studies, in this tutorial we discuss how the trend is not necessarily improving methodology used in the literature. That is, many studies continue to use Cronbach’s alpha without regard for its assumptions or merely cite methodological articles advising against its use to rationalize unfavorable Cronbach’s alpha estimates. This tutorial first provides evidence that recommendations against Cronbach’s alpha have not appreciably changed how empirical studies report reliability. Then, we summarize the drawbacks of Cronbach’s alpha conceptually without relying on mathematical or simulation-based arguments so that these arguments are accessible to a broad audience. We continue by discussing several alternative measures that make less rigid assumptions which provide justifiably higher estimates of reliability compared to Cronbach’s alpha. We conclude with empirical examples to illustrate advantages of alternative measures of reliability including omega total, Revelle’s omega total, the greatest lower bound, and Coefficient H. A detailed software appendix is also provided to help researchers implement alternative methods.

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