A Dynamic Thurstonian Item Response Theory of Motive Expression in the Picture Story Exercise: Solving the Internal Consistency Paradox of the PSE

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The measurement of implicit or unconscious motives using the picture story exercise (PSE) has long been a target of debate in the psychological literature. Most debates have centered on the apparent paradox that PSE measures of implicit motives typically show low internal consistency reliability on common indices like Cronbach’s alpha but nevertheless predict behavioral outcomes. I describe a dynamic Thurstonian item response theory (IRT) model that builds on dynamic system theories of motivation, theorizing on the PSE response process, and recent advancements in Thurstonian IRT modeling of choice data. To assess the models’ capability to explain the internal consistency paradox, I first fitted the model to archival data (Gurin, Veroff, & Feld, 1957) and then simulated data based on bias-corrected model estimates from the real data. Simulation results revealed that the average squared correlation reliability for the motives in the Thurstonian IRT model was .74 and that Cronbach’s alpha values were similar to the real data (<.35). These findings suggest that PSE motive measures have long been reliable and increase the scientific value of extant evidence from motivational research using PSE motive measures.

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