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To preface, this is my first foray into CFA and SEM, so please forgive me as I am likely making a number of unwitting mistakes.

I am currently working on a study to validate a proposed psychometric attitudinal scale. We have a number of indicator terms obtained from previous literature and from structured interviews (referred to here as x1 ... x21), and an idea of how these terms are related to a few latent factors (y1 ... y3).

Here is the lavaan model of those relationships:

cfa.model = "
    y1 =~ x1 + x2 + x3 + x4 + x5 + x6 + x7 + x8 + x9 + x10 + x11
    y2 =~ x12 + x13 + x14 + x15 + x16
    y3 =~ x17 + x18 + x19 + x20 + x21
"

We currently have a tiny sample of 20 responses and are hoping to move into full data collection in the very near future. However, going into it, we wanted to have an idea--aside from the numerous "rules of thumb" out there (i.e. 10-to-1 participants-to-indicators)--of the sample size required for our analyses. Here is a CSV containing the data, so you have an idea of what I am working with.

Looking into it, it seems like the best approach is CFA with a DWLS or WLSMV estimator, due to the properties of ordinal Likert-type data (Wang & Cunningham 2005, and others). lavaan is unable to converge using either of these estimators on a data set so small, but does "succeed" using ML, for what it's worth. I am not sure if this is of any use.

So, following Beaujean 2014, I went to the simsem package to simulate some data and estimate the minimum sample size from there. I thought that using the distributions of the data we already have would be a good idea. However, when I run the following code, I end up with power estimates of 1.000 for everything aside from the factor-factor estimates, which are exceedingly small (< 0.05).

cfa.sim1 = sim(model=cfa.model, n=rep(c(200, 250, 300, 400, 500), 100),
          lavaanfun="cfa", realData=data, seed=555)
summaryParam(cfa.sim1)

The plotPower() function shows this doesn't change across the varying sample sizes. It wasn't entirely clear to me what simsem was using the realData argument for; whether it uses the distributions of both the indicators and the latent factors according to the model, or just the indicators. I also wasn't clear on why I would be getting 1.000 for all of the power estimates, though I assumed that the small sample size was causing it to fail because there simply wasn't enough information to estimate the distributions. I would be surprised if it were telling me that 200 was a more-than-adequate sample size, considering the number of indicators.

I then thought that, though less ideal, I could give it distributions with a moderate level of skewness (1.5) and kurtosis (3.0) [from Li 2015, "Confirmatory factor analysis with ordinal data: Comparing robust maximum likelihood and diagonally weighted least squares"] and go from there:

cfa.sim.dist = bindDist(p=3, skewness=1.5, kurtosis=3.0)
cfa.sim2 = sim(model=cfa.model, n=rep(c(200, 250, 300, 400, 500), 100),
           lavaanfun="cfa", facDist=cfa.sim.dist, seed=555)
summaryParam(cfa.sim2)

However, this still gives me the same power estimates as before (1.000 for all factor-indicator and indicator-indicator, < 0.05 for factor-factor). Do I also need to provide distributions for the indicators via the indDist argument, or does it generate these from the facDist distributions?

So, these are the questions I am currently faced with:

  1. Is there a way to use the data set I have to estimate the distributions for the simulations and the power analysis, or is it simply too small to be useful?
  2. If not, what is the best way to proceed? It seemed to fail even when provided with parameters for the factor distributions.
  3. You may notice from the data set that there is a 'type' variable as well and that this is, in fact, a within-subjects design (each of the 5 participants rated 4 different samples). How do I incorporate this into my CFA model?
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  • $\begingroup$ If you don't get an answer here, you might try the lavaan Google Group. $\endgroup$ – Jeremy Miles May 19 '16 at 4:29
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for the recommendation. Hopefully someone there is able to help. $\endgroup$ – rewberl May 20 '16 at 15:55

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