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What does Cronbach's alpha mean?

Cronbach's alpha can be written as a function of the number of test items and the average inter-correlation among the items. Below, for conceptual purposes, we show the formula for the standardized Cronbach's alpha:

Here N is equal to the number of items, c-bar is the average inter-item covariance among the items and v-bar equals the average variance.

One can see from this formula that if you increase the number of items, you increase Cronbach's alpha. Additionally, if the average inter-item correlation is low, alpha will be low. As the average inter-item correlation increases, Cronbach's alpha increases as well (holding the number of items constant).

Let's work through an example of how
to compute Cronbach's alpha using SPSS, and how to check the dimensionality
of the scale using factor analysis. For this example, we will use a dataset that contains four test items - **q1**, **q2**, **q3** and **q4**. You can
download the dataset by clicking on alpha.sav.
To compute Cronbach's alpha
for all four items - **q1, q2, q3, q4** - use the **reliability**
command:

RELIABILITY

/VARIABLES=q1 q2 q3 q4.

Here is the resulting output from the above syntax:

The alpha coefficient for the four items is .839, suggesting that the items
have relatively high internal consistency. (Note
that a reliability coefficient of .70** **or higher is considered
"acceptable" in most social science research situations.)

In addition to computing the alpha coefficient of reliability, we might also
want to investigate the dimensionality of the scale. We can use the **factor**
command to do this:

Here is the resulting output from the above syntax:FACTOR /VARIABLES q1 q2 q3 q4 /FORMAT SORT BLANK(.35).

Looking at the table labeled Total Variance Explained, we see that the eigen value for the first factor is quite a bit larger than the eigen value for the next factor (2.7 versus 0.54). Additionally, the first factor accounts for 67% of the total variance. This suggests that the scale items are unidimensional.

- For more information about reading data in SPSS, see the SPSS Command Syntax Reference.
- For more information on Cronbach's Alpha, see SPSS Library: My Coefficient Alpha is Negative!
- For more information about intraclass coefficients as a measure of reliability, see SPSS Library: Choosing an Intraclass Correlation Coefficient.

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