This tutorial addresses the common task of randomising the order in which items are administered to participants. Such techniques can be useful for avoiding order effects.

In the simplest randomisation scheme, every participant receives the same set of items, and the order of these items is randomly permuted for each participant. However, many experiments require more sophisticated randomisation schemes, for example:

  • Choosing only short questions if the participant says they have a train to catch;
  • Using the participant’s initials as the seed for the randomisation algorithm;
  • Ensuring that each item is administered the same number of times across participants.

psychTestR does not limit the researcher to specific randomisation schemes, but instead encourages arbitrary randomisation schemes to be defined through R code, as described below.


Suppose we wish to administer the three survey items, each with a yes or no response:

  1. Are you afraid of dogs?
  2. Are you afraid of birds?
  3. Are you afraid of heights?

We can code these three items as a tibble:1

## # A tibble: 3 x 2
##   id      prompt                    
##   <chr>   <chr>                     
## 1 dogs    Are you afraid of dogs?   
## 2 birds   Are you afraid of birds?  
## 3 heights Are you afraid of heights?

There are three items in total, corresponding to the three rows of items. We want each participant to receive these three items in a random order, with this random order freshly determined for each participant.

To achieve this, we define a code block, which will be run once for each participant, to determine the participant’s randomisation order.

A code block is a piece of R code that runs during the participant’s testing session. This particular code block comprises three functions: sample, save_result, and set_local.

  1. The sample function generates a random item order. Here it samples from the integers from 1 to num_items, taking num_items such samples without replacement. This corresponds to a random permutation of the integers from 1 to num_items.
  2. The save_result function saves the resulting randomisation order to the participant’s results list.
  3. The set_local function stores the item order as a local variable so that it can easily be accessed in later parts of the testing session.

Next we write a function that programmatically generates test pages. This function takes two inputs: id and prompt, corresponding to the two columns of items.

The code above describes a simple two-alternative forced choice page, where the participant has to respond ‘Yes’ or ‘No’. Once the page has finished, the on_complete function increments the local variable item_pos by 1. This variable, item_pos, will track how far the participant is through the test.

Now we write the code for showing the items to the participant. This code comprises two sections: an initial code block, followed by a while loop. The starting code block initialises the local variable item_pos to 1, signifying the fact that the participant is about to take the first test item.

The while loop, meanwhile, is defined with two arguments: test and logic.

  • The test argument describes a function that is evaluated to determine whether to administer the test elements described in logic. Here the test function checks whether the item_pos local variable is less than or equal to the total number of items in the test; if so, then another item should be administered.
  • The logic argument takes the form of a reactive page. A reactive page is a page whose content depends on variables generated during the participant’s testing session, in this case item_pos and item_order. The reactive page defined here refers to these local variables, looks up the appropriate item in items, and then generates the required page with the item function.
show_items <- c(
  code_block(function(state, ...) set_local("item_pos", 1L, state)),
    test = function(state, ...) get_local("item_pos", state) <= num_items,
    logic = reactive_page(function(state, ...) {
      item_pos <- get_local("item_pos", state)
      item_id <- get_local("item_order", state)[item_pos]
      item(id = items$id[item_id], prompt = items$prompt[item_id])

Finally, we can put together the whole test by combining three elements:

  1. The logic for item randomisation (init_randomiser);
  2. The logic for showing items (show_items);
  3. A prebuilt test element that saves the results to disk (elt_save_results_to_disk);
  4. A final page to terminate the test (final_page).

This code should launch the test, complete with randomisation.2 Results will be saved in the output/results directory.

  1. A tibble is a nicely formatted version of a data frame, provide by the tibble package and exported by the tidyverse package.

  2. In RStudio, this means running the code with the ‘Run’ button, not the ‘Source’ button. You can use ‘Source’ but then you have to wrap the code in shiny::runApp.