Effect of nonnormal random components on level and power in group-randomized trials

David Andrew Hebert, The University of Texas School of Public Health


The use of group-randomized trials is particularly widespread in the evaluation of health care, educational, and screening strategies. Group-randomized trials represent a subset of a larger class of designs often labeled nested, hierarchical, or multilevel and are characterized by the randomization of intact social units or groups, rather than individuals. The application of random effects models to group-randomized trials requires the specification of fixed and random components of the model. The underlying assumption is usually that these random components are normally distributed. This research is intended to determine if the Type I error rate and power are affected when the assumption of normality for the random component representing the group effect is violated. In this study, simulated data are used to examine the Type I error rate, power, bias and mean squared error of the estimates of the fixed effect and the observed intraclass correlation coefficient (ICC) when the random component representing the group effect possess distributions with non-normal characteristics, such as heavy tails or severe skewness. The simulated data are generated with various characteristics (e.g. number of schools per condition, number of students per school, and several within school ICCs) observed in most small, school-based, group-randomized trials. The analysis is carried out using SAS PROC MIXED, Version 6.12, with random effects specified in a random statement and restricted maximum likelihood (REML) estimation specified. The results from the non-normally distributed data are compared to the results obtained from the analysis of data with similar design characteristics but normally distributed random effects. The results suggest that the violation of the normality assumption for the group component by a skewed or heavy-tailed distribution does not appear to influence the estimation of the fixed effect, Type I error, and power. Negative biases were detected when estimating the sample ICC and dramatically increased in magnitude as the true ICC increased. These biases were not as pronounced when the true ICC was within the range observed in most group-randomized trials (i.e. 0.00 to 0.05). The normally distributed group effect also resulted in bias ICC estimates when the true ICC was greater than 0.05. However, this may be a result of higher correlation within the data.

Subject Area

Biostatistics|Public health

Recommended Citation

Hebert, David Andrew, "Effect of nonnormal random components on level and power in group-randomized trials" (1999). Texas Medical Center Dissertations (via ProQuest). AAI9929462.