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Multilevel Models with Latent Variables Daniel J. Bauer Department of Psychology University of North Carolina 9/13/04 SAMSI Workshop

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Traditional Strengths of Multilevel Models Explicitly account for the interdependence of clustered units (where clustering may be spatial or temporal). Allow for the modeling of both average (fixed) effects and individual (random) effects. Facilitate thinking about and modeling context x person interactions. Permit inferences to be drawn to broader populations.

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Example Multilevel Model Suppose we wish to evaluate a school-based substance use intervention study. Observations may be correlated within schools, suggesting that random effects may be important to consider. For instance, schools may differ in overall levels of substance use (random intercept). More interesting, the effect of the intervention may differ across schools (random slope). We would like to predict why the intervention is more effective in some schools than others (e.g., diffusion processes). We would like to make inferences from the sample of schools present in the study to all schools.

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Traditional Strengths of Latent Variable Models Latent variables represent the constructs we want to study in terms of the observable variables we can study. Latent variable models provide a means to parse out measurement error by combining across observed variables (using correlations among vars) and allow for the estimation of complex causal models. Latent variable models are well developed for metric and discrete observed variables (including SEM and IRT approaches).

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Example Latent Variable Model Suppose we wish to measure and predict Depression Observed variables might be: Sadness, Trouble Sleeping & Lethargy. All are indirect markers of depression, but none is a perfect measure of the construct. Each observed variable is measured with error yet we would to obtain unbiased measures of depression. This can be done if we posit that the correlations across the observed variables arise from their common relation to the latent variable (local independence). Similarly, we would like to obtain unbiased coefficients for the relation of depression to other observed or latent variables (associations or causal effects).

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Are Multilevel Models Really Latent Variable Models? Although seemingly discrepant, multilevel models are in fact highly similar to latent variable models. The random effects are never actually observed, but must be inferred from the covariance among observations within clusters. Like most latent variables, the random effects are arbitrarily assumed to be normally distributed (or sometimes discretely distributed as in latent class models). Like most latent variable models, multilevel models typically assume that the random effects are uncorrelated with the residuals.

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Are Multilevel Models Really Latent Variable Models? The similarity is so great that most multilevel linear models can be identically estimated as SEMs (Bauer, 2003; Curran, 2003; Skrondal & Rabe-Hesketh, 2004). Likewise, Rasch and IRT models can be reframed as multilevel nonlinear models for discrete outcomes (Rijmen et al. 2003; Skrondal & Rabe- Hesketh, 2004; Van den Noortgate et al. 2003).

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Hybrid Models The realization that traditional multilevel models and latent variable models are analytically similar (and in many cases identical) has lead to the development of a new class of hybrid models. Multilevel models can be estimated that include latent variables combining across items via either factor analytic or item response theory formulations. Multilevel models can include complex causal pathways (e.g., mediational chains) among observed or latent variables. Latent variable models can account for nesting or clustering effects and can include random effects Multilevel SEM, IRT These hybrid models are at the forefront of psychometric research, bringing the best of both models together.

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Software Development Multilevel latent variable models have been implemented in at least two widely available software packages: The free Stata-based macro, GLLAMM, of Skrondal & Rabe- Hesketh The commercially available stand-alone software, Mplus, of Muthen & Muthen. Less far-reaching implementations of multilevel latent variable models are available in the commercial programs LISREL and EQS. Of course, the day after I give this talk, the statements made above will be completely erroneous and outdated (maybe they already are?). The pace of software development for these models in the last two or three years has been rapid!

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Stepping Back… In many cases, the pace of software development has outstripped the ability of researchers to investigate, evaluate and sometimes even conceptualize the models! For instance, what does it mean for a factor loading to be a random effect? That the measurement properties of the item are unique to the individual? Is this a good or bad thing? New developments are often not peer-reviewed, but rather published in software manuals, books, and invited book chapters.

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A Call for Research There is clearly a need for additional peer-reviewed research to Think philosophically about new modeling possibilities. Conduct analytical research to better understand the models, their promises and problems, and where improvements can be offered. Conduct simulations to evaluate model performance in finite samples and when assumptions are unmet.

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Closing Thoughts Multilevel models and latent variable models are sufficiently similar that hybridizations are possible and potentially quite useful. Multilevel linear models and SEM Multilevel nonlinear models and IRT Although these developments are exciting, they are taking place largely outside of the mainstream body of scientific research – in software manuals, books and book chapters. There is a need for quantitative researchers to catch up to software development – to think hard about the meaning of the models, their unique affordances and flaws, to further improve the application of these models in practice.

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Some Interesting Issues Alternative specifications of the random effect / latent variable distribution Seminonparametric Discrete (latent class approach; NPML) Mixture of Normals Relations between alternative approaches to specifying multilevel latent variable models. Cross-fertilization of methods from one model to the other.

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