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In his seminal work, William McDougall discussed how the meanings of “character” and “personality” can be analyzed into five distinguishable factors, including intellect, character, temperament, disposition, and temper. He maintained that each of these meanings is latent and comprises many variables. This can be translated into a statistical framework where one observes many variables that are explained by a small number (five in this case) of latent factors. McDougall’s intuition was an anticipation of the results of half a century of work to organize the language of personality into a coherent structure.

Latent (or not directly observable variables) abound in political science: public opinion, socioeconomic status, social capital, ideology, or utility. Instead of observing these quantities (called factors), researchers may have indicators of these concepts or ...

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