A Tutorial on Cognitive Diagnosis Modeling for Characterizing Mental Health Symptom Profiles Using Existing Item Responses

Zhengqi Tan, Jimmy de la Torre, Wenchao Ma, David Huh, Mary E. Larimer, Eun Young Mun

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


In research applications, mental health problems such as alcohol-related problems and depression are commonly assessed and evaluated using scale scores or latent trait scores derived from factor analysis or item response theory models. This tutorial paper demonstrates the use of cognitive diagnosis models (CDMs) as an alternative approach to characterizing mental health problems of young adults when item-level data are available. Existing measurement approaches focus on estimating the general severity of a given mental health problem at the scale level as a unidimensional construct without accounting for other symptoms of related mental health problems. The prevailing approaches may ignore clinically meaningful presentations of related symptoms at the item level. The current study illustrates CDMs using item-level data from college students (40 items from 719 respondents; 34.6% men, 83.9% White, and 16.3% first-year students). Specifically, we evaluated the constellation of four postulated domains (i.e., alcohol-related problems, anxiety, hostility, and depression) as a set of attribute profiles using CDMs. After accounting for the impact of each attribute (i.e., postulated domain) on the estimates of attribute profiles, the results demonstrated that when items or attributes have limited information, CDMs can utilize item-level information in the associated attributes to generate potentially meaningful estimates and profiles, compared to analyzing each attribute independently. We introduce a novel visual inspection aid, the lens plot, for quantifying this gain. CDMs may be a useful analytical tool to capture respondents’ risk and resilience for prevention research.

Original languageEnglish
JournalPrevention Science
StateAccepted/In press - 2022


  • Assessment
  • CDM
  • Classification
  • Co-occurring symptom profiles
  • DCM
  • Diagnostic classification model
  • IRT
  • Research domain criteria


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