Linear mixed-effects regression p-values in R: A likelihood ratio test function

Following Douglas Bates’ advice for those required to produce p-values for fixed-effects terms in a mixed-effects model, I wrote a function to perform a likelihood ratio test for each term in an lmer() object. Bates has championed the notion that calculating the p-values for fixed effects is not trivial. That’s because with unbalanced, multilevel data, the denominator degrees of freedom used to penalize certainty are unknown (i.e., we’re uncertain about how uncertain we should be). As the author of lme4, the foremost mixed-effects modeling package in Rlogo.jpg, he has practiced what he preaches by declining to approximate denominator degrees of freedom as SAS does. Bates contends that alternative inferential approaches make p-values unnecessary. I agree with that position, focusing instead on information criteria and effect sizes. However, as a program evaluator, I recognize that some stakeholders find p-values useful for understanding findings.

A likelihood ratio test can be used to test if the sample size is large. According to Fitzmaurice, Laird, and Ware, twice the difference between the maximized log-likelihoods of two nested models, , represents the degree to which the reduced model is inadequate. When the sample size is large, with degrees of freedom equal to the difference in parameters between the full and reduced models, . The p-value is will be too liberal (i.e., the type I error rate will exceed the nominal p-value). More conservatively, we might say that with numerator and denominator degrees of freedom. According to Snijders and Bosker, the effective sample size lies somewhere between total micro-observations (i.e., at level one) and clusters randomly sampled in earlier stages (i.e., at higher levels). Formally, the effective sample size is , where observations are nested within each cluster and intraclass correlation is . Even if is large, (and statistical power) could be quite small if is small and is large: . Unbalanced designs, modeling three or more levels, and cross-level interactions add to our uncertainty about the denominator degrees of freedom.

The function I wrote chews up the lmer() model call and concatenates the frame and model matrix slots, after which it iteratively fits (via maximum likelihood instead of restricted ML) models reduced by each fixed effect and compares them to the full model, yielding a vector of p-values based on . As the example shows, the function can handle shortcut formulas whereby lower order terms are implied by an interaction term. The function doesn’t currently handle weights, glmer() objects, or on-the-fly transformations of the dependent variable [e.g., log(dep.var) ~ ...]. The accuracy of resulting p-values depends on large sample properties, as discussed above, so I don’t recommend using the function with small samples. I’m working on another function that will calculate p-values based on the effective sample size estimated from intraclass correlation. I will post that function in a future entry. I’m sure the following function could be improved, but I wanted to go ahead share it with other applied researchers whose audience likes p-values. Please let me know if you see ways to make it better.

p.values.lmer <- function(x) {
summary.model <- summary(x)
data.lmer <- data.frame(model.matrix(x))
names(data.lmer) <- names(fixef(x))
names(data.lmer) <- gsub(pattern=":", x=names(data.lmer), replacement=".", fixed=T)
names(data.lmer) <- ifelse(names(data.lmer)=="(Intercept)", "Intercept", names(data.lmer)) <- strsplit(x=as.character(x@call), split=" + (", fixed=T)
var.dep <- unlist(strsplit(x=unlist([2], " ~ ", fixed=T))[1]
vars.fixef <- names(data.lmer)
formula.ranef <- paste("+ (",[[2]][-1], sep="")
formula.ranef <- paste(formula.ranef, collapse=" ")
formula.full <- as.formula(paste(var.dep, "~ -1 +", paste(vars.fixef, collapse=" + "),
data.ranef <- data.frame(x@frame[,
which(names(x@frame) %in% names(ranef(x)))])
names(data.ranef) <- names(ranef(x))
data.lmer <- data.frame(x@frame[, 1], data.lmer, data.ranef)
names(data.lmer)[1] <- var.dep
out.full <- lmer(formula.full, data=data.lmer, REML=F)
p.value.LRT <- vector(length=length(vars.fixef))
for(i in 1:length(vars.fixef)) {
formula.reduced <- as.formula(paste(var.dep, "~ -1 +", paste(vars.fixef[-i],
collapse=" + "), formula.ranef))
out.reduced <- lmer(formula.reduced, data=data.lmer, REML=F)
print(paste("Reduced by:", vars.fixef[i]))
print(out.LRT <- data.frame(anova(out.full, out.reduced)))
p.value.LRT[i] <- round(out.LRT[2, 7], 3)
summary.model@coefs <- cbind(summary.model@coefs, p.value.LRT)
summary.model@methTitle <- c("n", summary.model@methTitle,
"n(p-values from comparing nested models fit by maximum likelihood)")
lmer.out <- lmer(strength ~ Program * Time + (Time|Subj), data=Weights)


Linear mixed model fit by REML
(p-values from comparing nested models fit by maximum likelihood)
Formula: strength ~ Program * Time + (Time | Subj)
Data: Weights
AIC  BIC logLik deviance REMLdev
1343 1383 -661.7     1313    1323
Random effects:
Groups   Name        Variance Std.Dev. Corr
Subj     (Intercept) 9.038486 3.00641
Time        0.031086 0.17631  -0.118
Residual             0.632957 0.79559
Number of obs: 399, groups: Subj, 57
Fixed effects:
Estimate Std. Error   t value p.value.LRT
(Intercept)     79.99018    0.68578 116.64000       0.000
ProgramRI        0.07009    1.02867   0.07000       0.944
ProgramWI        1.11526    0.95822   1.16000       0.235
Time            -0.02411    0.04286  -0.56000       0.564
ProgramRI:Time   0.12902    0.06429   2.01000       0.043
ProgramWI:Time   0.18397    0.05989   3.07000       0.002
Correlation of Fixed Effects:
(Intr) PrgrRI PrgrWI Time   PrRI:T
ProgramRI   -0.667
ProgramWI   -0.716  0.477
Time        -0.174  0.116  0.125
ProgrmRI:Tm  0.116 -0.174 -0.083 -0.667
ProgrmWI:Tm  0.125 -0.083 -0.174 -0.716  0.477

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