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Specificity vs. Selectivity: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Janet White || Published on January 15, 2024
Specificity refers to the precise reaction to a particular target, while selectivity is the preference for one target over others, often in a competitive environment.

Key Differences

Specificity is the ability to distinctly and accurately respond to a particular target or stimulus. In contrast, selectivity involves the preference or prioritization of one target over others, often in situations with multiple potential targets or stimuli.
In biochemical contexts, specificity refers to how a molecule, like an enzyme, binds or reacts with a particular substrate. Selectivity, on the other hand, describes how a molecule chooses one substrate over others in a mixture.
Specificity is crucial in diagnostic tests to accurately identify a particular disease or condition. Selectivity becomes important in treatments, where a drug must preferentially act on certain cells or pathways while avoiding others.
High specificity is critical for avoiding false positives in various applications. In contrast, high selectivity is essential in reducing undesired reactions or side effects in complex environments.
Both specificity and selectivity are important in designing effective and safe pharmaceuticals. Specificity ensures the drug acts only on the intended target, while selectivity ensures it does so preferentially among potential targets.

Comparison Chart


Accuracy in reacting to a particular target
Preference for one target over others

Biochemical Context

Binding or reaction with a specific substrate
Choosing one substrate over others

Importance in Diagnostics

Identifying a specific condition
Distinguishing between similar conditions

Role in Treatment

Acting on a specific site or pathway
Preferring certain cells or pathways

Key Objective

Avoiding false positives
Reducing undesired reactions or side effects

Specificity and Selectivity Definitions


Distinct recognition of a unique target in diagnostics.
High specificity in the pregnancy test ensures accurate results.


Choosing or favoring one option over others.
The catalyst's selectivity enables it to facilitate specific reactions.


Accuracy in identifying or reacting to a particular entity.
The test's specificity ensures it only detects the targeted virus.


Prioritization of one outcome or reaction.
The herbicide's selectivity ensures it kills weeds without harming crops.


Precise action or effect in a narrow scope.
The drug's specificity reduces the risk of affecting non-targeted cells.


Intentional preference in a multifaceted system.
The filter's selectivity allows only specific molecules to pass through.


Tailored response to a specific stimulus or condition.
The enzyme's specificity allows it to bind only to its designated substrate.


Preference for a particular target in a competitive environment.
The treatment's selectivity helps it target cancerous cells over healthy ones.


Exclusive interaction with a particular target.
The antibody's specificity means it only binds to a specific antigen.


Discrimination between closely related targets.
The sensor's selectivity allows it to differentiate between similar gases.


Explicitly set forth; definite
Wrote specific instructions.


Of or characterized by selection; discriminating.


Empowered or tending to select.


(Electronics) Able to reject frequencies other than the one selected or tuned.


The quality of being selective, or extent to which something is selective.


The ability of a radio receiver to separate a desired signal frequency from others.


(chemistry) Discrimination of a reactant towards a choice of other reactants; the ratio of rate constants for different reactants.


An approach to social work that prioritizes people perceived as having the most need for assistance.


The property of being selective


Does selectivity matter in environmental sensors?

Yes, to distinguish specific pollutants from others.

What does specificity mean?

It means reacting accurately to a specific target.

How is selectivity defined?

Selectivity refers to preferring one target over others.

Is high specificity important in medicine?

Yes, to ensure treatments and diagnostics target only intended areas.

Can an enzyme show both specificity and selectivity?

Yes, it can specifically bind to one substrate and select it over others.

Can a diagnostic test be both specific and selective?

Yes, it can be designed to be specific to a condition and selective among similar ones.

Is selectivity important in drug design?

Absolutely, to ensure drugs affect target cells while minimizing side effects.

Does specificity relate to false negatives?

Yes, poor specificity can lead to false negatives.

Can specificity be absolute?

It can be very high, but absolute specificity is rare.

Can specificity vary between similar tests?

Yes, depending on their design and target recognition.

How does specificity affect test accuracy?

It reduces false positives by accurately identifying targets.

Is selectivity a factor in analytical chemistry?

Yes, for distinguishing and analyzing specific compounds.

Are there trade-offs between specificity and selectivity?

Sometimes, balancing the two can be challenging.

Does selectivity affect agricultural chemicals?

Yes, it's crucial for targeting pests without harming crops.

Can selectivity improve treatment efficacy?

Yes, by targeting the most effective pathways or cells.

Are there methods to measure specificity?

Yes, through tests evaluating the reaction to specific targets.

How does specificity impact a diagnostic's reliability?

It enhances reliability by ensuring accurate target detection.

How does selectivity impact environmental remediation?

It helps in targeting specific pollutants without affecting others.

Do catalysts need selectivity?

Yes, for directing specific chemical reactions.

Can vaccines be designed with specificity?

Yes, to target specific pathogens.
About Author
Written by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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