Bifactor models and rotations: exploring the extent to which multidimensional data yield univocal scale scores

J Pers Assess. 2010 Nov;92(6):544-59. doi: 10.1080/00223891.2010.496477.


The application of psychological measures often results in item response data that arguably are consistent with both unidimensional (a single common factor) and multidimensional latent structures (typically caused by parcels of items that tap similar content domains). As such, structural ambiguity leads to seemingly endless "confirmatory" factor analytic studies in which the research question is whether scale scores can be interpreted as reflecting variation on a single trait. An alternative to the more commonly observed unidimensional, correlated traits, or second-order representations of a measure's latent structure is a bifactor model. Bifactor structures, however, are not well understood in the personality assessment community and thus rarely are applied. To address this, herein we (a) describe issues that arise in conceptualizing and modeling multidimensionality, (b) describe exploratory (including Schmid-Leiman [Schmid & Leiman, 1957] and target bifactor rotations) and confirmatory bifactor modeling, (c) differentiate between bifactor and second-order models, and (d) suggest contexts where bifactor analysis is particularly valuable (e.g., for evaluating the plausibility of subscales, determining the extent to which scores reflect a single variable even when the data are multidimensional, and evaluating the feasibility of applying a unidimensional item response theory (IRT) measurement model). We emphasize that the determination of dimensionality is a related but distinct question from either determining the extent to which scores reflect a single individual difference variable or determining the effect of multidimensionality on IRT item parameter estimates. Indeed, we suggest that in many contexts, multidimensional data can yield interpretable scale scores and be appropriately fitted to unidimensional IRT models.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Models, Statistical*
  • Personality Assessment / statistics & numerical data*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires