Conclusions beyond support: overconfident estimates in mixed models

Schielzeth H, Forstmeier W (2009)
Behavioral Ecology 20(2): 416-420.

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Mixed-effect models are frequently used to control for the nonindependence of data points, for example, when repeated measures from the same individuals are available. The aim of these models is often to estimate fixed effects and to test their significance. This is usually done by including random intercepts, that is, intercepts that are allowed to vary between individuals. The widespread belief is that this controls for all types of pseudoreplication within individuals. Here we show that this is not the case, if the aim is to estimate effects that vary within individuals and individuals differ in their response to these effects. In these cases, random intercept models give overconfident estimates leading to conclusions that are not supported by the data. By allowing individuals to differ in the slopes of their responses, it is possible to account for the nonindependence of data points that pseudoreplicate slope information. Such random slope models give appropriate standard errors and are easily implemented in standard statistical software. Because random slope models are not always used where they are essential, we suspect that many published findings have too narrow confidence intervals and a substantially inflated type I error rate. Besides reducing type I errors, random slope models have the potential to reduce residual variance by accounting for between-individual variation in slopes, which makes it easier to detect treatment effects that are applied between individuals, hence reducing type II errors as well.
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Schielzeth H, Forstmeier W. Conclusions beyond support: overconfident estimates in mixed models. Behavioral Ecology. 2009;20(2):416-420.
Schielzeth, H., & Forstmeier, W. (2009). Conclusions beyond support: overconfident estimates in mixed models. Behavioral Ecology, 20(2), 416-420. doi:10.1093/beheco/arn145
Schielzeth, H., and Forstmeier, W. (2009). Conclusions beyond support: overconfident estimates in mixed models. Behavioral Ecology 20, 416-420.
Schielzeth, H., & Forstmeier, W., 2009. Conclusions beyond support: overconfident estimates in mixed models. Behavioral Ecology, 20(2), p 416-420.
H. Schielzeth and W. Forstmeier, “Conclusions beyond support: overconfident estimates in mixed models”, Behavioral Ecology, vol. 20, 2009, pp. 416-420.
Schielzeth, H., Forstmeier, W.: Conclusions beyond support: overconfident estimates in mixed models. Behavioral Ecology. 20, 416-420 (2009).
Schielzeth, Holger, and Forstmeier, W. “Conclusions beyond support: overconfident estimates in mixed models”. Behavioral Ecology 20.2 (2009): 416-420.
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