Selecting a Linear Mixed Model for Longitudinal Data: Repeated Measures Analysis of Variance, Covariance Pattern Model, and Growth Curve Approaches

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With increasing popularity, growth curve modeling is more and more often considered as the 1st choice for analyzing longitudinal data. Although the growth curve approach is often a good choice, other modeling strategies may more directly answer questions of interest. It is common to see researchers fit growth curve models without considering alterative modeling strategies. In this article we compare 3 approaches for analyzing longitudinal data: repeated measures analysis of variance, covariance pattern models, and growth curve models. As all are members of the general linear mixed model family, they represent somewhat different assumptions about the way individuals change. These assumptions result in different patterns of covariation among the residuals around the fixed effects. In this article, we first indicate the kinds of data that are appropriately modeled by each and use real data examples to demonstrate possible problems associated with the blanket selection of the growth curve model. We then present a simulation that indicates the utility of Akaike information criterion and Bayesian information criterion in the selection of a proper residual covariance structure. The results cast doubt on the popular practice of automatically using growth curve modeling for longitudinal data without comparing the fit of different models. Finally, we provide some practical advice for assessing mean changes in the presence of correlated data.

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