The Psychometrics of Learning.


Psychometrics has successfully uncovered major phenomena in psychological- and educational measurement. One example is the Matthew effect in education, which concerns the accumulation of individual differences initiated by minor differences in early success in, for instance, reading. Unfortunately, these revelations have not culminated into a formal theory of intellectual development that explains the phenomena at hand. Without an understanding of the generative mechanisms involved, undesirable phenomena such as the Matthew effect can be diagnosed, but cannot be treated or prevented.
The primary outcome of this project is a formal theory of cognitive development that explains several well-established phenomena. To build this theory, I will improve upon a network model from statistical physics, which can be used to model individuals by their personal network of relations (edges) that are formed between cognitive skills or knowledge (nodes). The core of the model concerns the actual growth of this cognitive network: It starts with some rudimentary skills or knowledge and grows to a well-connected network of many cognitive skills.
The theoretical framework that is developed in this proposal differs in many ways from contemporary psychometric approaches, but its two most innovative aspects are:
(1) It explains developmental phenomena related to age and education.
(2) It distinguishes within-person effects from between-person effects.
There are also new questions that emerge about, for instance, the processes that govern learning and unlearning, the mechanisms that generate developmental phenomena, and the role of education in these processes and mechanisms. New data will be collected to answer these and other questions.
With this project I intend to provide a solid and fruitful basis for both educational- and psychometric research. Moreover, there will be ample opportunity for scientific spill over as the project touches several other fields of science, such as network science, statistical physics, machine learning and dynamical systems.


Project number


Main applicant

Dr. M. Marsman

Affiliated with

Universiteit van Amsterdam, Faculteit der Maatschappij- en Gedragswetenschappen, Psychologie

Team members

Dr. M. Marsman


01/02/2018 to 01/09/2020