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What are modification indices and should I use them when fitting SEMs to my own data?

June 10, 2019

This is a great question and is one that prompts much disagreement among quantitative methodologists. Nearly all confirmatory factor analysis or structural equation models impose some kind of restrictions on the number parameters to be estimated. Usually, some parameters are set to zero (and thus not estimated at all), but sometimes restrictions come in the…

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Do you have any materials that demonstrate how to estimate structural equation models using lavaan in R?

April 24, 2019

This is a question we often hear, particularly from students and junior researchers who don’t have access to sometimes expensive commercial software for fitting structural equation models. It is possible to estimate a wide array of SEMs, ranging from simple path models to fully latent SEMs to growth curve models and beyond, using the lavaan…

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How do you choose the best longitudinal data analytic method for testing your research questions?

April 2, 2019

We have worked with statistical models for longitudinal data for more than two decades and this remains a vexing question to us both. There are so many modeling options from which to choose that it is often overwhelming to know which statistical method to use when. This is further complicated by the ongoing refinement of…

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What is the difference between a growth model estimated as a multilevel model versus as a structural equation model?

February 18, 2019

This very common question reflects a great deal of unnecessary confusion about how to select a specific analytic approach for modeling longitudinal data. The general term “growth modeling” refers to a variety of statistical methods that allow for the estimation of inter-individual (or between-person) differences in intra-individual (or within-person) change. Often, the function describing within-person…

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How can I define nonlinear trajectories in a growth curve model?

February 6, 2019

Growth curve models, whether estimated as a multilevel model (MLM) or a structural equation model (SEM), have become widely used in many areas of behavioral, health, and education sciences. The most common type of growth model defines a linear trajectory in which the time scores defining the slopes increment evenly for equally spaced repeated measures…

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Can I estimate an SEM if the sample data are not normally distributed?

January 23, 2019

Continuous distributions are typically described by their mean (central tendency), variance (spread), skew (asymmetry), and kurtosis (thickness of tails). A normal distribution assumes a skew and kurtosis of zero, but truly normal distributions are rare in practice. Unfortunately, the fitting of standard SEMs to non-normal data can result in inflated model test statistics (leading models…

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How do I know if my structural equation model fits the data well?

January 11, 2019

This is one of the most common questions we receive and, unfortunately, there are no quick answers. However, there are some initial guidelines that can be followed when assessing the fit of an SEM. For most SEMs, the goal of the analysis is to define a model that results in predicted values of the summary…

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Syntax for Computing Random Effect Estimates in SPSS

September 27, 2016

Many programs can be used to fit multilevel models. For instance, in our multilevel modeling summer workshop, we demonstrate three programs: SAS, SPSS, and Stata. Unlike SAS, Stata, and many other programs, however, SPSS does not currently offer the option to output estimates of the random effects. Obtaining estimates of the random effects can be…

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Evaluating Interaction Effects

January 23, 2016

Often the most interesting research question is not whether a relationship between two variables exists but rather under what conditions the relationship holds. Put in statistical terms, we are often less interested in main effects than we are in interactions or moderation. An interaction implies that the magnitude of the relation between two variables differs…

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Using Listservs to get Advice

December 7, 2015

Although a bit old school, listservs such as SEMNET (for latent variable models) and the Multilevel Discussion List remain useful resources when grappling with quantitative modeling issues. You can search the archives to see if your question has come up before or post a new question to obtain fresh feedback / opinions from list members.…

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