In a previous post, which can be found here, I described how the relative error variance of a treatment mean can be obtained by combining variance components. I concluded that post by mentioning how this relative error variance for the treatment mean can be used to obtain the variance of a contrast estimate. In this post, I will discuss a little more how this latter variance can be used to obtain a confidence interval for the contrast estimate, but we take a few steps back and consider a relatively simple study.
The plan of this post is as follows. We will have a look at the analysis of a factorial design and focus on estimating an interaction effect. We will consider both the NHST approach and an estimation approach. We will use both ‘hand calculations’ and SPSS.
An important didactic aspect of this post is to show the connection between the ANOVA source table and estimates of the standard error of a contrast estimate. Understanding that connections helps in understanding one of my planned posts on how obtaining these estimates work in the case of mixed model ANOVA. See the final section of this post.
The data we will be analyzing are made up. They were specifically designed for an exam in one of the undergraduate courses I teach. The story behind the data is as follows.
Description of the study
A researcher investigates the extent to which the presence of seductive details in a text influences text comprehension and motivation to read the text. Seductive details are pieces of information in a text that are included to make the text more interesting (for instance by supplying fun-facts about the topic of the text) in order to increase the motivation of the reader to read on in the text. These details are not part of the main points in the text. The motivation to read on may lead to increased understanding of the main points in the text. However, readers with much prior knowledge about the text topic may not profit as much as readers with little prior knowledge with respect to their understanding of the text, simply because their prior knowledge enables them to comprehend the text to an acceptable degree even without the presence of seductive details.
The experiment has two independent factors, the readers’ prior knowledge (1 = Little, 2 = Much) and the presence of seductive details (1 = Absent, 2 = Present) and two dependent variables, Text comprehension and Motivation. The experiment has a between participants design (i.e. participant nested within condition).
The research question is how much the effect of seductive details differs between readers with much and readers with little prior knowledge. This means that we are interested in estimating the interaction effect of presence of seductive details and prior knowledge on text comprehension.
The NHST approach
|Table 1. Output of traditional two-way ANOVA|
The results of the analysis will probably be reported as follows.
There was a significant main effect of prior knowledge (F(1, 393) = 39.26, p < .001, partial η2 = .09). Participants with much prior knowledge had a higher mean text comprehension score than the participants with little prior knowledge. There was no effect of the presence of seductive details (F < 1). The interaction effect was significant (F(1, 393) = 4.33, p < .05, partial η2 = .01).
Because of the significant interaction effect, simple effects analyses were performed to further investigate the interaction. These results show a significant effect of the presence of seductive details for the participants with little knowledge (p < .05), with a higher mean score in the condition with seductive details, but for the participants with much prior knowledge no effect of seductive details was found (p = .38), which explains the interaction. (Note: with a Bonferroni correction for the two simple effects analyses the p-values are p = .08 and p = .74; this will be interpreted as that neither readers with little knowledge nor with much knowledge benefit from the presence of seductive details).
The conclusion from the traditional analysis is that the effect of seductive details differs between readers with little and readers with much prior knowledge. The presence of seductive details only has an effect on the comprehension scores of readers with little prior knowledge of the text topic, in the presence of seductive details text comprehension is higher than in the absence of seductive details. Readers with much prior knowledge do not benefit from the presence of seductive details in a text.
Comment on the NHST analysis
As an aside, the null-hypothesis test for the effect of prior knowledge i.e. that the mean comprehension score of readers with little knowledge are equal to the mean comprehension score of readers with much prior knowledge about the text topic seems to me an excellent example of a null-hypothesis that is so implausible that rejecting it is not really informative. Even if used as some sort of manipulation check the real question is the extent to which the groups differ and not whether the difference is exactly zero. That is to say, not every non-zero difference is as reassuring as every other non-zero difference: there should be an amount of difference between the groups below which the group performances can be considered to be practically the same. If a significance tests is used at all, the null-hypothesis should specify that minimum amount of difference.
Estimating the interaction effect
|Table 2. Descriptive Statistics|
|Table 3. Estimated Marginal Means|
Let’s spend a little time exploring the contents of Table 3. The estimated means speak for themselves, hopefully. These are simply estimates of the population means.
The standard errors following the means are used to calculate confidence intervals for the population means. The standard error is based on an estimate of the common population variance (the ANOVA model assumes homogeneity of variance and normally distributed residuals). That estimate of the common variance can be found in Table 1: it is the Mean Square Error. Its estimated value is 3.32, based on 389 degrees of freedom.
The standard errors of the means in Table 3 are simply the square root of the Mean Square Error dvided by the sample size. E.g. the standard error of the mean text comprehension in the group with little knowledge and seductive details absent equals √(3.32/94) = .1879.
The Margin of Error needed to obtain the confidence interval is the critical t-value with 389 degrees of freedom (the df of the estimate of Mean Square Error) multiplied by the standard error of the mean. E.g. the MOE of the first mean is t.975(389)*.1879 = 1.966*.1879 = 0.3694.
The 95%-confidence interval for the first mean is therefore 3.67 +/- 0.3694 = [3.30, 4.04].
We want to know the extent to which the effect of seductive details differs between readers with little and much prior knowledge. This means that we want to know the difference between the differences. Thus, the difference between the means of the Present (P) and Absent (A) of readers with Much (M) knowledge is subtracted from the difference between the means of the readers with Little (L) knowledge: (ML+P – ML+A) – (MM+P – MM+A) = ML+P – ML+A – MM+P + MM+A = 4.210 – 3.670 – 4.980 + 5.206 = 0.766.
Our point estimate of the difference between the effect of seductive details for little knowledge readers and for much knowledge is that the effect is 0.77 points larger in the group with little knowledge.
For the interval estimate we need the estimated standard error of the contrast estimate and a critical value for the central t-statistic. To begin with the latter: the degrees of freedom are the degrees of freedom used to estimate Mean Square Error (df = 389; see Table 1).
The standard error of the contrasts estimate can be obtained by using the variance sum law. That is, the variance of the sum of two variables is the sum of their variances plus twice the covariance. And the variance of the difference between two variables is the sum of the variances minus twice the covariance. In the independent design, all the covariances between the means are zero, so the variance of the interaction contrast is simply the sum of the variances over the means. The standard error is the square root of this figure. Thus, var(interaction contrast) = 0.1882 + 0.1822 + 0.1852 + 0.1812 = 0.1354, and the standard error of the contrast is the square root of 0.1354 = .3680.
Note that the we have squared the standard errors of the mean. These squared standard error are the same as the relative error variances of the means. (Actually, in a participant nested under treatment condition (a between-subject design) the relative error variance of the mean equals the absolute error variance). More information about the error variance of the mean can be found here: https://the-small-s-scientist.blogspot.nl/2017/05/PFP-variance-components.html.
The Margin of Error of the contrast estimate is therefore t.975(389)*.3680 = 1.966*.3680 = 0.7235. The 95% confidence interval for the contrast estimate is [0.04, 1.49].
Thus, the answer to the research question is that the estimated difference in effect of seductive details between readers with little prior knowledge and readers with much prior knowledge about the text topic equals .77, 95% CI [.04, 1.49]. The 95% confidence interval shows that the estimate is very imprecise, since the limits of the interval are .04, which suggests that the effect of seductive details is essentially similar for the different groups of readers, and 1.49, which shows that the effect of seductive details may be much larger for little knowledge readers than for much knowledge readers.
Analysis with SPSS
I think it is easiest to obtain the contrast estimate by modeling the data with one-way ANOVA by including a factor I’ve called ‘independent’. (Note: In this simple case, the parameter estimates output of the independent factorial ANOVA also gives the interaction contrast (including the 95% confidence interval), so there is no actual need to specify contrasts, but I like to have the flexibility of being able to get an estimate that directly expresses what I want to know). This factor has 4 levels: one for each of the combinations of the factors prior knowledge and presence of seductive details: Little-Absent (LA), Little-Present (LP), Much-Absent (MA), and Much-Present (MP).
The interaction we’re after is the difference between the mean difference between Present and Absent for participants with little knowledge (MLP – MLA) and the mean difference between Present and Absent in the much knowledge group (MMP – MMA). Thus, the estimate of the interaction (difference between differences) is (MLP – MLA) – (MMP – MMA) = MLP – MLA – MMP + MMA. This can be rewritten as 1*MLP + -1*MLA + -1*MMP + 1*MMA).
The 1’s and -1’s are of course the contrast weights we have to specify in SPSS in order to get the estimate we want. We will have to make sure that the weights correspond to the way in which the order of the means is represented internally in SPSS. That order is LA, LP, MA, MP. Thus, the contrast weights need to be specified in that order to get the estimate to express what we want in terms of the difference between differences. See the second line in the following SPSS-syntax.
UNIANOVA comprehension BY independent
/CONTRAST(independent)=SPECIAL ( -1 1 1 -1)
The relevant output is presented in Table 4. Note that the results are the same as the ‘hand calculations’ described above (I find this very satisfying).
|Table 4. Interaction contrast estimate|
Comment on the analysis
On the other hand, we could argue that no result of a statistical analysis should be interpreted in isolation. Thus, there is no problem with interpreting the estimate of 0.77 while referring to the simple effects: the estimated difference between the effects is .77, 95% CI [.04, 1.49], reflecting the difference between an estimated effect of 0.54 in the little knowledge group and an estimated negative effect of -0.23 for much knowledge readers.
But, if the research question is how large is the effect of seductive details for little knowledge readers and high knowledge readers and how much do the effect differ, than that would call for three point estimates and interval estimates. Like: the estimated effect for the little knowledge group equals 0.54. 95% CI [0.03, 1.06], whereas the estimated effect for the much knowledge groups is negative -0.23, 95% CI [-0.73, 0.28]. The difference in effect is therefore 0.77, 95% CI [.04, 1.49].
In all cases, of course, the intervals are so wide that no firm conclusions can be drawn. Consistent with the point estimates are negligibly small positive effects to large positive effects of seductive details for the little knowledge group, small positive effects to negative effects of seductive details for the much knowledge group and an interaction effect that ranges from negligibly small to very large. In other words, the picture is not at all clear. (Interpretations of the effect sizes are based on rules of thumb for Cohen’s d. A (biased) estimate of Cohen’s d can be obtained by dividing the point estimate by the square root of Mean Square Error. An approximate confidence interval can be obtained by dividing the end-points of the non-standardized confidence intervals by the square root of Mean Square Error). Of course, we have to keep in mind that 5% of the 95% confidence intervals do not contain the true value of the parameter or contrast we are estimating.
Compare this to the firm (but unwarranted) NHST conclusion that there is a positive effect of seductive details for little knowledge readers (we don’t know whether there is a positive effect, because we can make a type I error if we reject the null) and no effect for much knowledge readers. (Yes, I know that the NHST thought-police forbids interpreting non-significant results as “no effect”, but we are talking about NHST as practiced and empirical research shows that researchers interpret non-significance as no effect).
In any case, the wide confidence intervals show that we could do some work for a replication study in terms of optimizing the precision of our estimates. In a next post, I will show you how we can use our estimate of precision for planning that replication study.