The use of configural frequency analysis for explorative data analysis

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Configural frequency analysis (CFA) is a widely used method of explorative data analysis. It tries to detect patterns in the data that occur significantly more or significantly less often than expected by chance. Patterns which occur more often than expected by chance are called CFA types, while those which occur less often than expected by chance are called CFA antitypes. The patterns detected are used to generate knowledge about the mechanisms underlying the data. We investigate the ability of CFA to detect adequate types and antitypes in a number of simulation studies. The basic idea of these studies is to predefine sets of types and antitypes and a mechanism which uses them to create a simulated data set. This simulated data set is then analysed with CFA and the detected types and antitypes are compared to the predefined ones. The predefined types and antitypes together with the method to generate the data are called a data generation model. The results of the simulation studies show that CFA can be used in quite different research contexts to detect structural dependencies in observed data. In addition, we can learn from these simulation studies how much data is necessary to enable CFA to reconstruct the predefined types and antitypes with sufficient accuracy. For one of the data generation models investigated, implicitly underlying knowledge space theory, it was shown that zero-order CFA can be used to reconstruct the predefined types (which can be interpreted in this context as knowledge states) with sufficient accuracy. Theoretical considerations show that first-order CFA cannot be used for this data generation model. Thus, it is wrong to consider first-order CFA, as is done in many publications, as the standard or even only method of CFA.

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