Entropy-based explanations of serial position and learning effects in ordinal responses to word list tests


  • Jeanette Melin
  • Petronella Kettunen
  • Anders Wallin
  • Leslie Pendrill




entropy, information, metrology, Rasch, cognition, memory, task difficulty, person ability, learning


Measuring a person’s cognitive abilities, such as memory and learning, is central in many medical conditions to reliably diagnose, treat and monitor disease progression. Common tests typically include tasks of recalling sequences of blocks, digits or words. Recalling a word list is affected by so-called serial position effects (SPE), meaning that words at the beginning or end of the list are more likely to be recalled. In our earlier work, as part of including ordinal and nominal properties in metrology, compensation for ordinality in the raw test scores has been performed with psychometric Rasch measurement theory. Thereafter, SPE have been successfully explained with construct specification equations (CSE) dominated by information theoretical entropy as candidate reference measurement procedures. Here, we present how previous German results for explaining memory difficulty in the immediate recalling (IR, trial 1) task of the Rey’s Auditory Verbal Learning Test (RAVLT) can be replicated with a Swedish cohort (the Gothenburg Mild Cognitive Impairment study, n = 251). This CSE replicability for RAVLT demonstrates comparability across the two cohorts in a kind of inter-laboratory study. Moreover, RAVLT includes repeated trials and learning through practice is expected. How memory task difficulty changes over the eight trials in RAVLT is studied: SPE are not so prominent for the delayed recalling sequences and there is an overall reduction in the task difficulty CSE intercept with trial number, interpreted as an effect of learning. To conclude, the methodology and evidence provided here can be clinically used not only to measure a person’s memory ability but also his or her learning ability, as well as understanding the relationship between learning ability and other cognitive domains.

Author Biographies

Jeanette Melin


Petronella Kettunen


Anders Wallin


Leslie Pendrill







Research Papers