Conditional Dependence between Response Time and Accuracy: An Overview of its Possible Sources and Directions for Distinguishing between Them

Front Psychol. 2017 Feb 16;8:202. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00202. eCollection 2017.


With the widespread use of computerized tests in educational measurement and cognitive psychology, registration of response times has become feasible in many applications. Considering these response times helps provide a more complete picture of the performance and characteristics of persons beyond what is available based on response accuracy alone. Statistical models such as the hierarchical model (van der Linden, 2007) have been proposed that jointly model response time and accuracy. However, these models make restrictive assumptions about the response processes (RPs) that may not be realistic in practice, such as the assumption that the association between response time and accuracy is fully explained by taking speed and ability into account (conditional independence). Assuming conditional independence forces one to ignore that many relevant individual differences may play a role in the RPs beyond overall speed and ability. In this paper, we critically consider the assumption of conditional independence and the important ways in which it may be violated in practice from a substantive perspective. We consider both conditional dependences that may arise when all persons attempt to solve the items in similar ways (homogeneous RPs) and those that may be due to persons differing in fundamental ways in how they deal with the items (heterogeneous processes). The paper provides an overview of what we can learn from observed conditional dependences. We argue that explaining and modeling these differences in the RPs is crucial to increase both the validity of measurement and our understanding of the relevant RPs.

Keywords: conditional dependence; measurement; modeling response times; response processes; speed-accuracy trade-off.