Studies of interaction effects are of great interest because they identify crucial interplay between predictors in explaining outcomes. Previous work has considered several potential sources of statistical bias and substantive misinterpretation in the study of interactions, but less attention has been devoted to the role of the outcome variable in such research. Here, we consider bias and false discovery associated with estimates of interaction parameters as a function of the distributional and metric properties of the outcome variable. We begin by illustrating that, for a variety of noncontinuously distributed outcomes (i.e., binary and count outcomes), attempts to use the linear model for recovery leads to catastrophic levels of bias and false discovery. Next, focusing on transformations of normally distributed variables (i.e., censoring and noninterval scaling), we show that linear models again produce spurious interaction effects. We provide explanations offering geometric and algebraic intuition as to why interactions are a challenge for these incorrectly specified models. In light of these findings, we make two specific recommendations. First, a careful consideration of the outcome’s distributional properties should be a standard component of interaction studies. Second, researchers should approach research focusing on interactions with heightened levels of scrutiny.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Psychology (miscellaneous)