Brief overview of tidyLPA

Joshua Rosenberg, Patrick Beymer, Daniel Anderson, and Jennifer A. Schmidt

2018-10-11

Note:

This overview is from the Journal of Open Source Software pper for tidyLPA. That paper is available here.

Summary

Researchers are often interested in identifying homogeneous subgroups within heterogeneous samples on the basis of a set of measures, such as profiles of individuals’ motivation (i.e., their values, competence beliefs, and achievement goals). Latent Profile Analysis (LPA) is a statistical method for identifying such groups, or latent profiles, and is a special case of the general mixture model where all measured variables are continuous. The tidyLPA package allows users to specify different models that determine whether and how different parameters (i.e., means, variances, and covariances) are estimated, and to specify and compare different solutions based on the number of profiles extracted.

The aim of the tidyLPA package is to provide a simple interface for conducting and evaluating LPA models. Given that LPA is only one type of mixture model, we do not expect it to replace the more general functionality of other tools that allow for the estimation of wider range of models. Nevertheless, this package provides convenient methods for conducting LPA using both open-source and commercial software, while aligning with a widely used coding framework (i.e., tidy data, described more below). In doing so, tidyLPA allows researchers with and without access to proprietary tools, such as MPlus, to conduct LPA.

A tidy user-interface

The input for tidyLPA assumes a tidy data structure, and all output are returned in a tidy from, which aligns with the broad array of tools within the tidyverse collection of R packages. The data can be efficiently used to create plots, explore model results, or used in subsequent analyses. The interface is also designed to work efficiently with the pipe operator, %>%, and dplyr helper functions that can be used to select variables, e.g.:

{code} data %>% tidyLPA::estimate_profiles(dplyr::starts_with())

The package is designed and documented to be easy to use, especially for beginners to LPA, but with fine-grained options available for estimating models and evaluating specific output as part of more complex analyses.

Functionality through both open-source and commercial software

The tidyLPA package provides an interface to two different tools for estimating models, one from the open-source mclust R package and the other the commercial MPlus software (via the MplusAutomation R package. The packages are benchmarked to one another; the benchmarks are checked when tidyLPA is deployed through automated tests.

Both the open-source and commercial tools allow for the specification of four model parameterizations:

Two additional model parameterizations (Models 4 and 5) are only available through MPlus.

The two primary functions in the package are estimate_profiles() and compare_solutions(), with the former used to estimate a given model and the latter used evaluate differences in the fit of alternative models and number of profiles extracted. The estimate_profiles() function returns the predicted probability of membership in each profile for each case in the dataset, and allows for simple interpretation of the model output, particularly when combined with the plot_profiles() function, which displays the mean values (and their standard errors) on each measure for each profile.

The compare_solutions() function fits a wide range of models and returns various fit indices, including likelihood ratio tests and other statistics (e.g., entropy) for each parameterization. All three functions use mclust; corresponding functions with _mplus() appended use the MPlus software.