Inferring Latent Structure in Polytomous Data with a Higher-Order Diagnostic Model

Steven Andrew Culpepper, James J. Balamuta

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Researchers continue to develop and advance models for diagnostic research in the social and behavioral sciences. These diagnostic models (DMs) provide researchers with a framework for providing a fine-grained classification of respondents into substantively meaningful latent classes as defined by a multivariate collection of binary attributes. A central concern for DMs is advancing exploratory methods for uncovering the latent structure, which corresponds with the relationship between unobserved binary attributes and observed polytomous items with two or more response options. Multivariate behavioral polytomous data are often collected within a higher-order design where general factors underlying first-order latent variables. This study advances existing exploratory DMs for polytomous data by proposing a new method for inferring the latent structure underlying polytomous response data using a higher-order model to describe dependence among the discrete latent attributes. We report a novel Bayesian formulation that uses variable selection techniques for inferring the latent structure along with a higher-order factor model for attributes. We report evidence of accurate parameter recovery in a Monte Carlo simulation study and present results from an application to the 2012 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) problem-solving vignettes to demonstrate the method.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)368-386
Number of pages19
JournalMultivariate Behavioral Research
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2023


  • Bayesian
  • Polytomous response data
  • cognitive diagnosis
  • latent class
  • latent structure models

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Statistics and Probability


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