This article proposes a general mixture item response theory (IRT) framework that allows for classes of persons to differ with respect to the type of processes underlying the item responses. Through the use of mixture models, nonnested IRT models with different structures can be estimated for different classes, and class membership can be estimated for each person in the sample. If researchers are able to provide competing measurement models, this mixture IRT framework may help them deal with some violations of measurement invariance. To illustrate this approach, we consider a two-class mixture model, where a person’s responses to Likert-scale items containing a neutral middle category are either modeled using a generalized partial credit model, or through an IRTree model. In the first model, the middle category (“neither agree nor disagree”) is taken to be qualitatively similar to the other categories, and is taken to provide information about the person’s endorsement. In the second model, the middle category is taken to be qualitatively different and to reflect a nonresponse choice, which is modeled using an additional latent variable that captures a person’s willingness to respond. The mixture model is studied using simulation studies and is applied to an empirical example.
Keywords: Item response theory, General mixture item response models, Mixture modeling, IRTree models, Measurement invariance, Likert scale, Response styles