An introduction to item response theory for health behavior researchers

Russell T. Warne, E. Lisako, J. McKyer, Matthew L. Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


Objective: To introduce item response theory (IRT) to health behavior researchers by contrasting it with classical test theory and providing an example of IRT in health behavior. Method: Demonstrate IRT by fitting the 2PL model to substance-use survey data from the Adolescent Health Risk Behavior questionnaire (n=1343 adolescents). Results: An IRT 2PL model can produce viable substance use scores that differentiate different levels of substance use, resulting in improved precision and specificity at the respondent level. Conclusion: IRT is a viable option for health researchers who want to produce high-quality scores for unidimensional constructs. The results from our example-although not flawless- demonstrate the feasibility of IRT in health behavior research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)31-43
Number of pages13
JournalAmerican Journal of Health Behavior
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2012


  • Adolescents
  • ATOD
  • Item response theory
  • Psychometrics
  • Survey research

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Social Psychology
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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