Inter-Rater Reliability Measures in R

Cohen’s Kappa in R: For Two Categorical Variables

Cohen’s kappa (Jacob Cohen 1960, J Cohen (1968)) is used to measure the agreement of two raters (i.e., “judges”, “observers”) or methods rating on categorical scales. This process of measuring the extent to which two raters assign the same categories or score to the same subject is called inter-rater reliability.

Traditionally, the inter-rater reliability was measured as simple overall percent agreement, calculated as the number of cases where both raters agree divided by the total number of cases considered.

This percent agreement is criticized due to its inability to take into account random or expected agreement by chance, which is the proportion of agreement that you would expect two raters to have based simply on chance.

The Cohen’s kappa is a commonly used measure of agreement that removes this chance agreement. In other words, it accounts for the possibility that raters actually guess on at least some variables due to uncertainty.

There are many situation where you can calculate the Cohen’s Kappa. For example, you might use the Cohen’s kappa to determine the agreement between two doctors in diagnosing patients into “good”, “intermediate” and “bad” prognostic cases.

The Cohen’s kappa can be used for two categorical variables, which can be either two nominal or two ordinal variables. Other variants exists, including:

  • Weighted kappa to be used only for ordinal variables.
  • Light’s Kappa, which is just the average of all possible two-raters Cohen’s Kappa when having more than two categorical variables (Conger 1980).
  • Fleiss kappa, which is an adaptation of Cohen’s kappa for n raters, where n can be 2 or more.

This chapter describes how to measure the inter-rater agreement using the Cohen’s kappa and Light’s Kappa.

You will learn:

  • The basics, formula and step-by-step explanation for manual calculation
  • Examples of R code to compute Cohen’s kappa for two raters
  • How to calculate Light’s kappa for more than two raters
  • Interpretation of the kappa coefficient


Related Book

Inter-Rater Reliability Essentials: Practical Guide in R

Basics and manual calculations


The formula of Cohen’s Kappa is defined as follow:

Cohen’s Kappa formula

  • Po: proportion of observed agreement
  • Pe: proportion of chance agreement

kappa can range form -1 (no agreement) to +1 (perfect agreement).

  • when k = 0, the agreement is no better than what would be obtained by chance.
  • when k is negative, the agreement is less than the agreement expected by chance.
  • when k is positive, the rater agreement exceeds chance agreement.

Kappa for 2x2 tables

For explaining how to calculate the observed and expected agreement, let’s consider the following contingency table. Two clinical psychologists were asked to diagnose whether 70 individuals are in depression or not.

Data structure:

##        Doctor2
## Doctor1 Yes No Total
##   Yes   a   b  R1   
##   No    c   d  R2   
##   Total C1  C2 N


  • a, b, c and d are the observed (O) counts of individuals;
  • N = a + b + c + d, that is the total table counts;
  • R1 and R2 are the total of row 1 and 2, respectively. These represent row margins in the statistics jargon.
  • C1 and C2 are the total of column 1 and 2, respectively. These are column margins.

Example of data:

##        doctor2
## doctor1 yes no Sum
##     yes  25 10  35
##     no   15 20  35
##     Sum  40 30  70

Proportion of observed agreement. The total observed agreement counts is the sum of the diagonal entries. The proportion of observed agreement is: sum(diagonal.values)/N, where N is the total table counts.

  • 25 participants were diagnosed yes by the two doctors
  • 20 participants were diagnosed no by both

so, Po = (a + d)/N = (25 + 20)/70 = 0.643

Proportion of chance agreement. The expected proportion of agreement is calculated as follow.

Step 1. Determine the probability that both doctors would randomly say Yes:

    1. Doctor 1 says yes to 35/70 (0.5) participants. This represents the row 1 marginal proportion, which is row1.sum/N.
    1. Doctor 2 says yes to 40/70 (0.57) participants. This represents the column 1 marginal proportion, which is column1.sum/N.
    1. Total probability of both doctors saying yes randomly is 0.5*0.57 = 0.285. This is the product of row 1 and column 1 marginal proportions.

Step 2. Determine the probability that both doctors would randomly say No:

    1. Doctor 1 says no to 35/70 (0.5) participants. This is the row 2 marginal proportion: row2.sum/N.
    1. Doctor 2 says no to 30/70 (0.428) participants. This is the column 2 marginal proportion: column2.sum/N.
    1. Total probability of both doctors saying no randomly is 0.5*0.428 = 0.214. This is the product of row 2 and column 2 marginal proportions.

so, the total expected probability by chance is Pe = 0.285+0.214 = 0.499. Technically, this can be seen as the sum of the product of rows and columns marginal proportions: Pe = sum(rows.marginal.proportions x columns.marginal.proportions).

Cohen’s kappa. Finally, the Cohen’s kappa is (0.643 - 0.499)/(1-0.499) = 0.28.

Kappa for two categorical variables with multiple levels

In the previous section, we demonstrated how to manually compute the kappa value for 2x2 table (binomial variables: yes vs no). This can be generalized to categorical variables with multiple levels as follow.

The ratings scores from the two raters can be summarized in a k×k contingency table, where k is the number of categories.

Example of kxk contingency table to assess agreement about k categories by two different raters:

##           rater2
## rater1     Level.1 Level.2 Level... Level.k Total
##   Level.1  n11     n12     ...      n1k     n1+  
##   Level.2  n21     n22     ...      n2k     n2+  
##   Level... ...     ...     ...      ...     ...  
##   Level.k  nk1     nk2     ...      nkk     nk+  
##   Total    n+1     n+2     ...      n+k     N


  • The column “Total” (n1+, n2+, ..., nk+) indicates the sum of each row, known as row margins or marginal counts. Here, the total sum of a given row i is named ni+.
  • The row “Total” (n+1, n+2, ..., n+k) indicates the sum of each column, known as column margins. Here, the total sum of a given column i is named n+i
  • N is the total sum of all table cells
  • For a give row/column, the marginal proportion is the row/column margin divide by N. This is also known as the marginal frequencies or probabilities. For a row i, the marginal proportion is Pi+ = ni+/N. Similarly, for a given column i, the marginal proportion is P+i = n+i/N.
  • For each table cell, the proportion can be calculated as the cell count divided by N.

The proportion of observed agreement (Po) is the sum of diagonal proportions, which corresponds to the proportion of cases in each category for which the two raters agreed on the assignment.

Proportion of observed agreement formula

The proportion of chance agreement (Pe) is the sum of the products of the rows and columns marginal proportions:pe = sum(row.marginal.proportions x column.marginal.proportions)

Proportion of expected (chance) agreement formula

So, the Cohen’s kappa can be calculated by plugging Po and Pe in the formula: k = (Po - Pe)/(1 - Pe).

Kappa confidence intervals. For large sample size, the standard error (SE) of kappa can be computed as follow (J. L. Fleiss and Cohen 1973, J. L. Fleiss, Cohen, and Everitt (1969), Friendly, Meyer, and Zeileis (2015)):

Standard error of kappa

Once SE(k) is calculated, a 100(1 – alpha)% confidence interval for kappa may be computed using the standard normal distribution as follows:

Confidence interval of kappa

For example, the formula of the 95% confidence interval is: k +/- 1.96 x SE.

R code to compute step by step the Cohen’s kappa:

# Contingency table
xtab <- as.table(rbind(c(25, 10), c(15, 20)))
# Descriptive statistics
diagonal.counts <- diag(xtab)
N <- sum(xtab)
row.marginal.props <- rowSums(xtab)/N
col.marginal.props <- colSums(xtab)/N
# Compute kappa (k)
Po <- sum(diagonal.counts)/N
Pe <- sum(row.marginal.props*col.marginal.props)
k <- (Po - Pe)/(1 - Pe)

In the following sections, you will learn a single line R function to compute Kappa.

Interpretation: Magnitude of the agreement

In most applications, there is usually more interest in the magnitude of kappa than in the statistical significance of kappa. The following classifications has been suggested to interpret the strength of the agreement based on the Cohen’s Kappa value (Altman 1999, Landis JR (1977)).

Value of k Strength of agreement
< 0 Poor
0.01 - 0.20 Slight
0.21-0.40 Fair
0.41-0.60 Moderate
0.61-0.80 Substantial
0.81 - 1.00 Almost perfect

However, this interpretation allows for very little agreement among raters to be described as “substantial”. According to the table 61% agreement is considered as good, but this can immediately be seen as problematic depending on the field. Almost 40% of the data in the dataset represent faulty data. In healthcare research, this could lead to recommendations for changing practice based on faulty evidence. For a clinical laboratory, having 40% of the sample evaluations being wrong would be an extremely serious quality problem (McHugh 2012).

This is the reason that many texts recommend 80% agreement as the minimum acceptable inter-rater agreement. Any kappa below 0.60 indicates inadequate agreement among the raters and little confidence should be placed in the study results.

Fleiss et al. (2003) stated that for most purposes,

  • values greater than 0.75 or so may be taken to represent excellent agreement beyond chance,
  • values below 0.40 or so may be taken to represent poor agreement beyond chance, and
  • values between 0.40 and 0.75 may be taken to represent fair to good agreement beyond chance.

Another logical interpretation of kappa from (McHugh 2012) is suggested in the table below:

Value of k Level of agreement % of data that are reliable
0 - 0.20 None 0 - 4‰
0.21 - 0.39 Minimal 4 - 15%
0.40 - 0.59 Weak 15 - 35%
0.60 - 0.79 Moderate 35 - 63%
0.80 - 0.90 Strong 64 - 81%
Above 0.90 Almost Perfect 82 - 100%

In the table above, the column “% of data that are reliable” corresponds to the squared kappa, an equivalent of the squared correlation coefficient, which is directly interpretable.

Assumptions and requirements

Your data should met the following assumptions for computing Cohen’s Kappa.

  1. You have two outcome categorical variables, which can be ordinal or nominal variables.
  2. The two outcome variables should have exactly the same categories
  3. You have paired observations; each subject is categorized twice by two independent raters or methods.
  4. The same two raters are used for all participants.

Statistical hypotheses

  • Null hypothesis (H0): kappa = 0. The agreement is the same as chance agreement.
  • Alternative hypothesis (Ha): kappa ≠ 0. The agreement is different from chance agreement.

Example of data

We’ll use the psychiatric diagnoses data provided by two clinical doctors. 30 patients were enrolled and classified by each of the two doctors into 5 categories (J. Fleiss and others 1971): 1. Depression, 2. Personality Disorder, 3. Schizophrenia, 4. Neurosis, 5. Other.

The data is organized into the following 5x5 contingency table:

# Demo data
diagnoses <- as.table(rbind(
  c(7, 1, 2, 3, 0), c(0, 8, 1, 1, 0),
  c(0, 0, 2, 0, 0), c(0, 0, 0, 1, 0),
  c(0, 0, 0, 0, 4)
categories <- c("Depression", "Personality Disorder",
                "Schizophrenia", "Neurosis", "Other")
dimnames(diagnoses) <- list(Doctor1 = categories, Doctor2 = categories)
##                       Doctor2
## Doctor1                Depression Personality Disorder Schizophrenia Neurosis Other
##   Depression                    7                    1             2        3     0
##   Personality Disorder          0                    8             1        1     0
##   Schizophrenia                 0                    0             2        0     0
##   Neurosis                      0                    0             0        1     0
##   Other                         0                    0             0        0     4

Computing Kappa

Kappa for two raters

The R function Kappa() [vcd package] can be used to compute unweighted and weighted Kappa. The unweighted version corresponds to the Cohen’s Kappa, which are our concern in this chapter. The weighted Kappa should be considered only for ordinal variables and are largely described in Chapter @ref(weighted-kappa).

# install.packages("vcd")
# Compute kapa
res.k <- Kappa(diagnoses)
##            value    ASE    z Pr(>|z|)
## Unweighted 0.651 0.0997 6.53 6.47e-11
## Weighted   0.633 0.1194 5.30 1.14e-07
# Confidence intervals
## Kappa          lwr   upr
##   Unweighted 0.456 0.847
##   Weighted   0.399 0.867

Note that, in the above results ASE is the asymptotic standard error of the kappa value.

In our example, the Cohen’s kappa (k) = 0.65, which represents a fair to good strength of agreement according to Fleiss e al. (2003) classification. This is confirmed by the obtained p-value (p < 0.05), indicating that our calculated kappa is significantly different from zero.

Kappa for more than two raters

If there are more than 2 raters, then the average of all possible two-raters kappa is known as Light’s kappa (Conger 1980). You can compute it using the function kappam.light() [irr package], which takes a matrix as input. The matrix columns are raters and rows are individuals.

# install.packages("irr")
# Load and inspect a demo data
data("diagnoses", package = "irr")
head(diagnoses[, 1:3], 4)
##                       Doctor2
## Doctor1                Depression Personality Disorder Schizophrenia
##   Depression                    7                    1             2
##   Personality Disorder          0                    8             1
##   Schizophrenia                 0                    0             2
##   Neurosis                      0                    0             0
# Compute Light's kappa between the first 3 raters
kappam.light(diagnoses[, 1:3])
##  Light's Kappa for m Raters
##  Subjects = 5 
##    Raters = 3 
##     Kappa = 0.172 
##         z = 0.69 
##   p-value = 0.49


Cohen’s kappa was computed to assess the agreement between two doctors in diagnosing the psychiatric disorders in 30 patients. There was a good agreement between the two doctors, kappa = 0.65 (95% CI, 0.46 to 0.84), p < 0.0001.


This chapter describes the basics and the formula of the Cohen’s kappa. Additionally, we show how to compute and interpret the kappa coefficient in R. We also provide examples of R code for computing the Light’s Kappa, which is the average of all possible two-raters kappa when you have more than two raters.

Other variants of Cohen’s kappa include: the weighted kappa (for two ordinal variables, Chapter @ref(weighted-kappa)) and Fleiss kappa (for two or more variables, Chapter @ref(weighted-kappa)).


Altman, Douglas G. 1999. Practical Statistics for Medical Research. Chapman; Hall/CRC Press.

Cohen, J. 1968. “Weighted Kappa: Nominal Scale Agreement with Provision for Scaled Disagreement or Partial Credit.” Psychological Bulletin 70 (4): 213—220. doi:10.1037/h0026256.

Cohen, Jacob. 1960. “A Coefficient of Agreement for Nominal Scales.” Educational and Psychological Measurement 20 (1): 37–46. doi:10.1177/001316446002000104.

Conger, A. J. 1980. “Integration and Generalization of Kappas for Multiple Raters.” Psychological Bulletin 88 (2): 322–28.

Fleiss, J.L., and others. 1971. “Measuring Nominal Scale Agreement Among Many Raters.” Psychological Bulletin 76 (5): 378–82.

Fleiss, Joseph L., and Jacob Cohen. 1973. “The Equivalence of Weighted Kappa and the Intraclass Correlation Coefficient as Measures of Reliability.” Educational and Psychological Measurement 33 (3): 613–19. doi:10.1177/001316447303300309.

Fleiss, Joseph L., Jacob Willem Cohen, and Brian Everitt. 1969. “Large Sample Standard Errors of Kappa and Weighted Kappa.” Psychological Bulletin 72: 332–27.

Friendly, Michael, D. Meyer, and A. Zeileis. 2015. Discrete Data Analysis with R: Visualization and Modeling Techniques for Categorical and Count Data. 1st ed. Chapman; Hall/CRC.

Landis JR, Koch GG. 1977. “The Measurement of Observer Agreement for Categorical Data” 1 (33). Biometrics: 159–74.

McHugh, Mary. 2012. “Interrater Reliability: The Kappa Statistic.” Biochemia Medica : Časopis Hrvatskoga Društva Medicinskih Biokemičara / HDMB 22 (October): 276–82. doi:10.11613/BM.2012.031.

Version: Français

Introduction to R for Inter-Rater Reliability Analyses (Prev Lesson)
(Next Lesson) Weighted Kappa in R: For Two Ordinal Variables
Back to Inter-Rater Reliability Measures in R

Comment ( 1 )

  • Wendy Martin

    Is there a square root missing for the Standard Error?

Give a comment

Want to post an issue with R? If yes, please make sure you have read this: How to Include Reproducible R Script Examples in Datanovia Comments