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Psychol Methods. 2006 Mar;11(1):36-53.

Local solutions in the estimation of growth mixture models.

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  • 1University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Department of Sociology, Chapel Hill, NC 27599, USA.


Finite mixture models are well known to have poorly behaved likelihood functions featuring singularities and multiple optima. Growth mixture models may suffer from fewer of these problems, potentially benefiting from the structure imposed on the estimated class means and covariances by the specified growth model. As demonstrated here, however, local solutions may still be problematic. Results from an empirical case study and a small Monte Carlo simulation show that failure to thoroughly consider the possible presence of local optima in the estimation of a growth mixture model can sometimes have serious consequences, possibly leading to adoption of an inferior solution that differs in substantively important ways from the actual maximum likelihood solution. Often, the defaults of current software need to be overridden to thoroughly evaluate the parameter space and obtain confidence that the maximum likelihood solution has in fact been obtained.

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