Can you tell people's cognitive ability level from their response patterns in questionnaires?

TitleCan you tell people's cognitive ability level from their response patterns in questionnaires?
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of PublicationForthcoming
AuthorsSchneider, S, Hernandez, R, Junghaenel, DU, Jin, H, Lee, P-J, Gao, H, Maupin, D, Orriens, B, Meijer, E, Stone, AA
JournalBehavior Research Methods
ISSN Number1554-3528
KeywordsCognitive Ability, item response theory, Questionnaire responding, Task complexity, Worst performance rule

Questionnaires are ever present in survey research. In this study, we examined whether an indirect indicator of general cognitive ability could be developed based on response patterns in questionnaires. We drew on two established phenomena characterizing connections between cognitive ability and people's performance on basic cognitive tasks, and examined whether they apply to questionnaires responses. (1) The worst performance rule (WPR) states that people's worst performance on multiple sequential tasks is more indicative of their cognitive ability than their average or best performance. (2) The task complexity hypothesis (TCH) suggests that relationships between cognitive ability and performance increase with task complexity. We conceptualized items of a questionnaire as a series of cognitively demanding tasks. A graded response model was used to estimate respondents' performance for each item based on the difference between the observed and model-predicted response ("response error" scores). Analyzing data from 102 items (21 questionnaires) collected from a large-scale nationally representative sample of people aged 50+ years, we found robust associations of cognitive ability with a person's largest but not with their smallest response error scores (supporting the WPR), and stronger associations of cognitive ability with response errors for more complex than for less complex questions (supporting the TCH). Results replicated across two independent samples and six assessment waves. A latent variable of response errors estimated for the most complex items correlated .50 with a latent cognitive ability factor, suggesting that response patterns can be utilized to extract a rough indicator of general cognitive ability in survey research.

User Guide Notes

Alternate JournalBehav Res Methods
Citation Key13850
PubMed ID38528247
PubMed Central ID5130162
Grant ListR01AG068190 / AG / NIA NIH HHS / United States