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Latent variables are variables that are unobserved—at least not directly. Also sometimes referred to as hidden variables, unmeasured variables, factors, hypothetical variables, or hypothetical constructs, latent variables are measured in practice not by a single variable, but by multiple observed (or manifest) variables. Their use in communication, and in the social sciences more generally, is ubiquitous.

For instance, communication researchers are frequently interested in the influence of personality or other psychological traits on the reception of different kinds of messages—a perennial concern for students of attitude change and persuasion. With few exceptions, however, complex psychological or attitudinal traits of the kind that often serve as a filter for messages received from the mass media or through an individual’s social environment are not adequately captured by a ...

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