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Psychol Methods. 2011 Dec;16(4):444-67. doi: 10.1037/a0024376. Epub 2011 Jul 25.

A 2 × 2 taxonomy of multilevel latent contextual models: accuracy-bias trade-offs in full and partial error correction models.

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Institute of Psychology, Humboldt University, Berlin, Germany.


In multilevel modeling, group-level variables (L2) for assessing contextual effects are frequently generated by aggregating variables from a lower level (L1). A major problem of contextual analyses in the social sciences is that there is no error-free measurement of constructs. In the present article, 2 types of error occurring in multilevel data when estimating contextual effects are distinguished: unreliability that is due to measurement error and unreliability that is due to sampling error. The fact that studies may or may not correct for these 2 types of error can be translated into a 2 × 2 taxonomy of multilevel latent contextual models comprising 4 approaches: an uncorrected approach, partial correction approaches correcting for either measurement or sampling error (but not both), and a full correction approach that adjusts for both sources of error. It is shown mathematically and with simulated data that the uncorrected and partial correction approaches can result in substantially biased estimates of contextual effects, depending on the number of L1 individuals per group, the number of groups, the intraclass correlation, the number of indicators, and the size of the factor loadings. However, the simulation study also shows that partial correction approaches can outperform full correction approaches when the data provide only limited information in terms of the L2 construct (i.e., small number of groups, low intraclass correlation). A real-data application from educational psychology is used to illustrate the different approaches.

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