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08-02-2021 | Uitgave 6/2021 Open Access

Quality of Life Research 6/2021

Psycholinguistic features, design attributes, and respondent-reported cognition predict response time to patient-reported outcome measure items

Quality of Life Research > Uitgave 6/2021
Matthew L. Cohen, Aaron J. Boulton, Alyssa M. Lanzi, Elyse Sutherland, Rebecca Hunting Pompon
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Supplementary Information

The online version contains supplementary material available at https://​doi.​org/​10.​1007/​s11136-021-02778-5.

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Patient-reported outcome measures (PROMs) vary in their psycholinguistic complexity. This study examined whether response time to PROM items is related to psycholinguistic attributes of the item and/or the self-reported cognitive ability of the respondent.


Baseline data from Wave 2 of the Quality of Life in Neurological Disorders (Neuro-QoL) development study were reanalyzed. That sample contained 581 adults with neurological disorders and whose self-reported cognitive abilities were quantified by the Neuro-QoL v2.0 Cognitive Function Item Bank. 185 Neuro-QoL items were coded for several psycholinguistic variables and design attributes: number of words and syllables, mean imageability of words, mean word frequency, mean age of word acquisition, and response format (e.g., about symptom frequency or task difficulty). Data were analyzed with linear and generalized linear mixed models.


Main effects models revealed that slower response times were associated with respondents with lower self-reported cognitive abilities and with PROM items that contained more syllables, less imageable (e.g., more abstract) words, and that asked about task difficulty rather than symptom frequency. Interaction effects were found between self-reported cognition and those same PROM attributes such that people with worse self-reported cognitive abilities were disproportionately slow when responding to items that were longer (more syllables), contained less imageable words, and asked about task difficulty.


Completing a PROM requires multiple cognitive skills (e.g., memory, executive functioning) and appraisal processes. Response time is a means of operationalizing the amount or difficulty of cognitive processing, and this report indicates several aspects of PROM design that relate to a measure’s cognitive burden. However, future research with better experimental control is needed.

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