[R-sig-ME] lmer: effects of forcing fixed intercepts and slopes

Gjalt-Jorn Peters gjalt-jorn at behaviorchange.eu
Tue Nov 6 16:23:02 CET 2012

Dear all,

I run into something I don't understand: I update a model with some 
terms; none of the terms is significant; but the model suddenly fits A 
LOT better . . .

The background: I am running a model to test a relatively simple 
hypothesis: that an intervention aiming to reduce cannabis use is 
effective. It's a repeated measures design where we measured cannabis 
use of each student before and after the intervention. In addition to 
having repeated measures, students are nested in schools. A simple plot 
of the percentage of cannabis users before and after the intervention, 
in the control and the intervention groups, is at 
http://sciencerep.org/files/7/plot.png (this plot ignores the schools).

This is the datafile:

   ### Load data
   dat.long <- 
header=TRUE, sep = "\t");

   ### Set 'participant' as factor
   dat.long$participant <- factor(dat.long$id);


This is what the head looks like:

   id moment   school cannabisShow gender age usedCannabis_bi participant
1  1 before Zuidoost Intervention      2  NA NA           1
2  2 before Zuidoost Intervention      2  NA 0           2
3  3 before Zuidoost Intervention      1  NA 1           3
4  4 before    Noord Intervention     NA  NA NA           4
5  5 before    Noord Intervention     NA  NA 1           5
6  6 before    Noord Intervention      1  NA NA           6

'school' has 8 levels;
'moment' has 2 levels ('before' and 'after');
'cannabisShow' has 2 levels, 'Intervention' and 'Control';
'usedCannabis_bi' has 2 levels, 0 and 1;
and participants is the participant identifyer.

I run a null model and a 'real' model, comparing the fit. These are the 
formulations I use:

   rep_measures.1.null  <- lmer(formula = usedCannabis_bi ~
                                1 + moment + (1 + moment | school / 
                                family=binomial(link = "logit"), 
   rep_measures.1.model <- update(rep_measures.1.null, .~. + 
   anova(rep_measures.1.null, rep_measures.1.model);

The second model, where I introduce the interaction between measurement 
moment and whether participants received the intervention (this should 
reflect an effect of the intervention), fits considerably better than 
the original model. But, the interaction is not significant. In fact, 
none of the fixed effects is - so I added terms to the model, none of 
these terms significantly contributes to the prediction of cannabis use, 
yet the model fits a lot better.

This seems to be a paradox. Could anybody maybe explain how this is 

I also looked at the situation where I impose fixed intercepts and 
slopes on the participant level (so intercepts and slopes could only 
vary per school):

   rep_measures.2.null  <- lmer(formula = usedCannabis_bi ~
                                1 + moment + (1 + moment | school),
                                family=binomial(link = "logit"), 
   rep_measures.2.model <- update(rep_measures.2.null, .~. + 
   anova(rep_measures.2.null, rep_measures.2.model);

Now the interaction between 'measurement moment' and 'intervention' is 
significant, as I expected; but the improvement in fit between the null 
model and the 'full model' is much, much smaller.

This is very counter-intuitive to me - I have the feeling I'm missing 
something basic, but I have no idea what. Any help is much appreciated!

Thank you very much in advance, kind regards,


PS: the file with the analyses is at 

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