An Introduction to Item Response Theory for Health Behavior Researchers Academic Article uri icon


  • 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.

author list (cited authors)

  • Warne, R. T., McKyer, E., & Smith, M. L.

publication date

  • January 1, 2012 11:11 AM