Chapter 24 Regression under many groups: mixed effects models

Caution: in a highly developmental stage! See Section 1.1.

24.1 Motivation for LME

Let’s take a look at the esoph data set, to see how the number of controls ncontrols affects the number of cases ncases of cancer for each age group agegp. Here’s what the data look like (with a tad bit of vertical jitter):

It seems each age group has a different relationship. Should we then fit regression lines for each group separately? Here’s what we get, if we do:

But, each group has so few observations, making the regression less powerful:

## # A tibble: 6 x 2
##   agegp     n
##   <ord> <int>
## 1 25-34    15
## 2 35-44    15
## 3 45-54    16
## 4 55-64    16
## 5 65-74    15
## 6 75+      11

Question: can we borrow information across groups to strengthen regression, while still allowing each group to have its own regression line?

Here’s another scenario: suppose we want to know the effect of ncontrols on the average person. Then, we would only include one common slope parameter for all individuals. Even if each individual “has their own unique slope”, this model is still sensible because the common slope can be interpreted as the average effect. The problem with this model is that the typical estimates of standard error on our regression coefficients will be artificially small due to correlation in the data induced by the grouping.

Here is a simulation that compares the “actual” SE (or at least an approximation of it) and the SE reported by lm:

Question: How can we account for the dependence in the data?

Both questions can be addressed using a Linear Mixed Effects (LME) model. An LME model is just a linear regression model for each group, with different slopes and intercepts, but the collection of slopes and intercepts is assumed to come from some normal distribution.

24.1.1 Definition

With one predictor (\(X\)), we can write an LME as follows: \[ Y = \left(\beta_0 + b_0\right) + \left(\beta_1 + b_1\right) X + \varepsilon, \] where the error term \(\varepsilon\) has mean zero, and the \(b_0\) and \(b_1\) terms are normally distributed having a mean of zero, and some unknown variances and correlation. The \(\beta\) terms are called the fixed effects, and the \(b\) terms are called the random effects. Since the model has both types of effects, it’s said to be a mixed model – hence the name of “LME”.

Note that we don’t have to make both the slope and intercept random. For example, we can remove the \(b_0\) term, which would mean that each group is forced to have the same (fixed) intercept \(\beta_0\). Also, we can add more predictors (\(X\) variables).

24.1.2 R Tools for Fitting

Two R packages exist for working with mixed effects models: lme4 and nlme. We’ll be using the lme4 package (check out this discussion on Cross Valiesophed for a comparison of the two packages).

Let’s fit the model. We need to indicate a formula first in the lmer function, and indicate the data set we’re using.

Let’s take a closer look at the formula, which in this case is ncases ~ ncontrols + (ncontrols | agegp).

On the left of the ~ is the response variable, as usual (just like for lm). On the right, we need to specify both the fixed and random effects. The fixed effects part is the same as usual: ncontrols indicates the explanatory variables that get a fixed effect. Then, we need to indicate which explanatory variables get a random effect. The random effects can be indicated in parentheses, separated by +, followed by a |, after which the variable(s) that you wish to group by are indicated. So | can be interpreted as “grouped by”.

Now let’s look at the model output:

## Linear mixed model fit by REML ['lmerMod']
## Formula: ncases ~ ncontrols + (ncontrols | agegp)
##    Data: esoph
## 
## REML criterion at convergence: 388.6
## 
## Scaled residuals: 
##     Min      1Q  Median      3Q     Max 
## -2.6508 -0.3710 -0.1302  0.3683  4.8056 
## 
## Random effects:
##  Groups   Name        Variance Std.Dev. Corr
##  agegp    (Intercept) 1.693347 1.30129      
##           ncontrols   0.005728 0.07569  0.26
##  Residual             3.733047 1.93211      
## Number of obs: 88, groups:  agegp, 6
## 
## Fixed effects:
##             Estimate Std. Error t value
## (Intercept)  1.63377    0.59979   2.724
## ncontrols    0.04972    0.03676   1.352
## 
## Correlation of Fixed Effects:
##           (Intr)
## ncontrols 0.038

The random and fixed effects are indicated here.

  • Under the “Random effects:” section, we have the variance of each random effect, and the lower part of the correlation matrix of these random effects.
  • Under the “Fixed effects:” section, we have the estimates of the fixed effects, as well as the uncertainty in the estimate (indicated by the Std. Error).

We can extract the collection of slopes and intercepts for each group using the coef function:

##       (Intercept)    ncontrols
## 25-34   0.2675529 -0.002921620
## 35-44   0.7228095 -0.001129813
## 45-54   2.2832448  0.036595805
## 55-64   3.5104366  0.064260084
## 65-74   1.8700969  0.171908841
## 75+     1.1484852  0.029578210

Let’s put these regression lines on the plot:

## Warning: Column `agegp` joining character vector and factor, coercing into
## character vector
##    agegp (Intercept)  ncontrols.x     alcgp    tobgp ncases ncontrols.y
## 1  25-34   0.2675529 -0.002921620 0-39g/day 0-9g/day      0          40
## 2  25-34   0.2675529 -0.002921620 0-39g/day    10-19      0          10
## 3  25-34   0.2675529 -0.002921620 0-39g/day    20-29      0           6
## 4  25-34   0.2675529 -0.002921620 0-39g/day      30+      0           5
## 5  25-34   0.2675529 -0.002921620     40-79 0-9g/day      0          27
## 6  25-34   0.2675529 -0.002921620     40-79    10-19      0           7
## 7  25-34   0.2675529 -0.002921620     40-79    20-29      0           4
## 8  25-34   0.2675529 -0.002921620     40-79      30+      0           7
## 9  25-34   0.2675529 -0.002921620    80-119 0-9g/day      0           2
## 10 25-34   0.2675529 -0.002921620    80-119    10-19      0           1
## 11 25-34   0.2675529 -0.002921620    80-119      30+      0           2
## 12 25-34   0.2675529 -0.002921620      120+ 0-9g/day      0           1
## 13 25-34   0.2675529 -0.002921620      120+    10-19      1           1
## 14 25-34   0.2675529 -0.002921620      120+    20-29      0           1
## 15 25-34   0.2675529 -0.002921620      120+      30+      0           2
## 16 35-44   0.7228095 -0.001129813 0-39g/day 0-9g/day      0          60
## 17 35-44   0.7228095 -0.001129813 0-39g/day    10-19      1          14
## 18 35-44   0.7228095 -0.001129813 0-39g/day    20-29      0           7
## 19 35-44   0.7228095 -0.001129813 0-39g/day      30+      0           8
## 20 35-44   0.7228095 -0.001129813     40-79 0-9g/day      0          35
## 21 35-44   0.7228095 -0.001129813     40-79    10-19      3          23
## 22 35-44   0.7228095 -0.001129813     40-79    20-29      1          14
## 23 35-44   0.7228095 -0.001129813     40-79      30+      0           8
## 24 35-44   0.7228095 -0.001129813    80-119 0-9g/day      0          11
## 25 35-44   0.7228095 -0.001129813    80-119    10-19      0           6
## 26 35-44   0.7228095 -0.001129813    80-119    20-29      0           2
## 27 35-44   0.7228095 -0.001129813    80-119      30+      0           1
## 28 35-44   0.7228095 -0.001129813      120+ 0-9g/day      2           3
## 29 35-44   0.7228095 -0.001129813      120+    10-19      0           3
## 30 35-44   0.7228095 -0.001129813      120+    20-29      2           4
## 31 45-54   2.2832448  0.036595805 0-39g/day 0-9g/day      1          46
## 32 45-54   2.2832448  0.036595805 0-39g/day    10-19      0          18
## 33 45-54   2.2832448  0.036595805 0-39g/day    20-29      0          10
## 34 45-54   2.2832448  0.036595805 0-39g/day      30+      0           4
## 35 45-54   2.2832448  0.036595805     40-79 0-9g/day      6          38
## 36 45-54   2.2832448  0.036595805     40-79    10-19      4          21
## 37 45-54   2.2832448  0.036595805     40-79    20-29      5          15
## 38 45-54   2.2832448  0.036595805     40-79      30+      5           7
## 39 45-54   2.2832448  0.036595805    80-119 0-9g/day      3          16
## 40 45-54   2.2832448  0.036595805    80-119    10-19      6          14
## 41 45-54   2.2832448  0.036595805    80-119    20-29      1           5
## 42 45-54   2.2832448  0.036595805    80-119      30+      2           4
## 43 45-54   2.2832448  0.036595805      120+ 0-9g/day      4           4
## 44 45-54   2.2832448  0.036595805      120+    10-19      3           4
## 45 45-54   2.2832448  0.036595805      120+    20-29      2           3
## 46 45-54   2.2832448  0.036595805      120+      30+      4           4
## 47 55-64   3.5104366  0.064260084 0-39g/day 0-9g/day      2          49
## 48 55-64   3.5104366  0.064260084 0-39g/day    10-19      3          22
## 49 55-64   3.5104366  0.064260084 0-39g/day    20-29      3          12
## 50 55-64   3.5104366  0.064260084 0-39g/day      30+      4           6
## 51 55-64   3.5104366  0.064260084     40-79 0-9g/day      9          40
## 52 55-64   3.5104366  0.064260084     40-79    10-19      6          21
## 53 55-64   3.5104366  0.064260084     40-79    20-29      4          17
## 54 55-64   3.5104366  0.064260084     40-79      30+      3           6
## 55 55-64   3.5104366  0.064260084    80-119 0-9g/day      9          18
## 56 55-64   3.5104366  0.064260084    80-119    10-19      8          15
## 57 55-64   3.5104366  0.064260084    80-119    20-29      3           6
## 58 55-64   3.5104366  0.064260084    80-119      30+      4           4
## 59 55-64   3.5104366  0.064260084      120+ 0-9g/day      5          10
## 60 55-64   3.5104366  0.064260084      120+    10-19      6           7
## 61 55-64   3.5104366  0.064260084      120+    20-29      2           3
## 62 55-64   3.5104366  0.064260084      120+      30+      5           6
## 63 65-74   1.8700969  0.171908841 0-39g/day 0-9g/day      5          48
## 64 65-74   1.8700969  0.171908841 0-39g/day    10-19      4          14
## 65 65-74   1.8700969  0.171908841 0-39g/day    20-29      2           7
## 66 65-74   1.8700969  0.171908841 0-39g/day      30+      0           2
## 67 65-74   1.8700969  0.171908841     40-79 0-9g/day     17          34
## 68 65-74   1.8700969  0.171908841     40-79    10-19      3          10
## 69 65-74   1.8700969  0.171908841     40-79    20-29      5           9
## 70 65-74   1.8700969  0.171908841    80-119 0-9g/day      6          13
## 71 65-74   1.8700969  0.171908841    80-119    10-19      4          12
## 72 65-74   1.8700969  0.171908841    80-119    20-29      2           3
## 73 65-74   1.8700969  0.171908841    80-119      30+      1           1
## 74 65-74   1.8700969  0.171908841      120+ 0-9g/day      3           4
## 75 65-74   1.8700969  0.171908841      120+    10-19      1           2
## 76 65-74   1.8700969  0.171908841      120+    20-29      1           1
## 77 65-74   1.8700969  0.171908841      120+      30+      1           1
## 78   75+   1.1484852  0.029578210 0-39g/day 0-9g/day      1          18
## 79   75+   1.1484852  0.029578210 0-39g/day    10-19      2           6
## 80   75+   1.1484852  0.029578210 0-39g/day      30+      1           3
## 81   75+   1.1484852  0.029578210     40-79 0-9g/day      2           5
## 82   75+   1.1484852  0.029578210     40-79    10-19      1           3
## 83   75+   1.1484852  0.029578210     40-79    20-29      0           3
## 84   75+   1.1484852  0.029578210     40-79      30+      1           1
## 85   75+   1.1484852  0.029578210    80-119 0-9g/day      1           1
## 86   75+   1.1484852  0.029578210    80-119    10-19      1           1
## 87   75+   1.1484852  0.029578210      120+ 0-9g/day      2           2
## 88   75+   1.1484852  0.029578210      120+    10-19      1           1

So, each group still gets its own regression line, but tying the parameters together with a normal distribution gives us a more powerful regression.

24.2 Mixed Effects Models in R: tutorial

Caution: in a highly developmental stage! See Section 1.1.

Two R packages exist for working with mixed effects models: lme4 and nlme. We’ll be using the lme4 package (check out this discussion on Cross Valiesophed for a comparison of the two packages).

In Lab 1, we compared linear regression (function lm) with GLM’s (function glm). In Lab 2, we consider adding a random effect to either of these:

  • A linear model with random effects is a Linear Mixed-Effects Model, and is fit using the lmer function.
  • A generalized linear model with random effects is a Generalized Linear Mixed-Effects Model, and is fit using the glmer function.

We’ll work with the esoph data set, to see how the number of controls ncontrols affects the number of cases ncases based on age group agegp. Here’s what the data look like (with a tad bit of vertical jitter):

Since the response is a count variable, we’ll go ahead with a Poisson regression – a Generalized Linear Mixed-Effects Model. The model is \[ Y_{ij} \mid X_{ij} = x_{ij} \sim \text{Poisson}\left(\lambda_{ij}\right) \] for each observation \(i\) on the \(j\)’th age group, where \(Y_{ij}\) is the number of cases, \(X_{ij}\) is the number of controls, and \(\lambda_{ij}\) is the conditional mean of \(Y_{ij}.\) We model \(\lambda_{ij}\) as \[ \log\left(\lambda_{ij}\right) = \left(\beta_0 + b_{0j}\right) + \left(\beta_1 + b_{1j}\right) x_{ij}, \] where \(b_{0j}\) and \(b_{1j}\) are joint (bivariate) normally distributed with zero mean.

What does this model mean? First, it means that the mean is exponential in the explanatory variable, since we chose a \(\log\) link function. Second, each age group (\(j\)) gets its own mean curve, via its own linear predictor. But we’re saying that these linear predictors are related: the collection of slopes and intercepts across age groups are centered around \(\beta_0\) and \(\beta_1\) (respectively, called the fixed effects), and the slope and intercept of each age group departs from this center according to some Gaussian random noise (the \(b\) terms, called the random effects).

Let’s fit the model. Then we’ll go through the formula, and the output.

## Generalized linear mixed model fit by maximum likelihood (Laplace
##   Approximation) [glmerMod]
##  Family: poisson  ( log )
## Formula: ncases ~ ncontrols + (1 + ncontrols | agegp)
##    Data: esoph
## 
##      AIC      BIC   logLik deviance df.resid 
##    315.1    327.5   -152.5    305.1       83 
## 
## Scaled residuals: 
##     Min      1Q  Median      3Q     Max 
## -1.8527 -0.7919 -0.3286  0.4776  3.8037 
## 
## Random effects:
##  Groups Name        Variance  Std.Dev. Corr
##  agegp  (Intercept) 1.2343714 1.11102      
##         ncontrols   0.0003231 0.01797  0.66
## Number of obs: 88, groups:  agegp, 6
## 
## Fixed effects:
##             Estimate Std. Error z value Pr(>|z|)
## (Intercept) 0.135478   0.483820   0.280    0.779
## ncontrols   0.006613   0.013945   0.474    0.635
## 
## Correlation of Fixed Effects:
##           (Intr)
## ncontrols 0.174

To specify the formula, the fixed effects part is the same as usual: ncases ~ ncontrols gives you ncases = beta0 + beta1 * ncontrols. Note that the intercept is put in there by default. Then, we need to indicate which explanatory variables are getting the random effects – including the intercept this time (with a 1), if you want it (in this case, we do). The random effects can be indicated in parentheses, separated by +, followed by a |, after which the variable(s) that you wish to group by are indicated. So | can be interpreted as “grouped by”.

The output of the model fit is similar to what you’ve seen before (in glm for example), but the “random effects” part is new. That gives us the estimates of the joint normal distribution of the random effects – through the variances, and correlation matrix to the right (only the lower-diagonal of the correlation matrix is given, because that matrix is symmetric anyway).

Let’s see what the intercepts and slopes for each age group are, and let’s plot the estimated mean curves:

##       (Intercept)    ncontrols
## 25-34  -1.7354506 -0.015914168
## 35-44  -0.4511743 -0.001501133
## 45-54   0.8834961  0.010877945
## 55-64   1.3497976  0.011718487
## 65-74   0.8568545  0.031875293
## 75+     0.1396608  0.006661583

A (response-) residual plot is somewhat sensible to look at here:

Looks fairly centered at zero, so the shape of the mean curves are satisfactory.

24.3 Concepts

  • A linear mixed effects (LME) model is used when iid data are collected within groups. The model is a linear regression model, where some of the regression coefficients are taken to be group-specific, where each group’s coefficients are assumed to come from a joint Normal distribution with some mean and a generic covariance matrix.
  • The fixed effects in an LME model are the regression coefficients (if fixed) and the expected value of the regression coefficients (if random).
  • The random effects in an LME model are the random regression coefficients minus their means / fixed effects.
  • To predict on an existing group (using a mean prediction), we find that group’s regression coefficients (and therefore model function) by summing the fixed effects and (if present) the random effects, then use that model function to make predictions.
  • To predict on a new group (using a mean prediction), we use the fixed effects as the regression coefficients (because the random effects have mean zero), and use that model function to make predictions.
  • If each group has different (true) regression coefficients, then:
    • fitting a (fixed effects) linear regression model with common regression coefficients across groups does not account for the dependence/correlation contained in the data (induced by the grouping), therefore the reported SE of the regression coefficients will be smaller than they should be.
    • fitting a (fixed effects) linear regression model with separate regression coefficients across groups results in SE’s (of regression coefficients) that are larger than they could be if we were to borrow information across groups (as mixed effects models do). This is because this is akin to fitting separate regressions on each group, which alone has far less data than the pooled dataset.
  • While the random effects are assumed to follow a joint Normal distribution, this is different from the sampling distribution of the estimates of the fixed effects.
    • The former distribution explains the spread of regression coefficients, and does not change when we collect more data (we just get a better estimate of this distribution);
    • The latter distribution explains the uncertainty in the estimates, and gets narrower as we collect more data.