I have a dataset that most likely requires a mixed effects model, but which has a few quirks that make me want to confirm that my current modeling approach is correct.


My DV is a measurement of human behavior before and after an event (each event has exactly 2 measurements: 1 pre-event and 1 post-event) and I am interested in understanding how, if at all, the event influenced the dependent variable. (In case it matters, the dependent variable is a ratio that varies from 0 to 1.)

Not all observations are independent; some observations correspond to the same people to whom the event occurred more than once (but the event has occurred to everyone: once to 65% of people and mostly twice to everyone else).


I am using a mixed effects model using Python's statsmodels in which I have:

  • dv - one row for every dependent variable measurement
  • fixed effect - dummy variable indicating if the measurement happened pre- or post- event
  • random effect - person ID (groups = ~10k, mean group size = ~3)
  • random slope - same dummy variable used as fixed effect (to acknowledge that the rate of change from pre- to post-event may differ by person)

My mixedlm formula looks as follows:

smf.mixedlm('dv ~ pre_post', data, re_formula='pre_post', groups='person_id')


Does this approach make sense? Am I missing something in capturing a repeated measures design nested by person using a mixed effects model?

  • $\begingroup$ Do you have multiple measurements per person and time point? $\endgroup$
    – Michael M
    Apr 3, 2018 at 19:20
  • $\begingroup$ @MichaelM, I do not have multiple measurements per time point. For each person-event combination, there is one DV measurement before the event and one measurement after the event. Lmk if that makes sense! $\endgroup$
    – Gyan Veda
    Apr 3, 2018 at 19:27
  • $\begingroup$ I have a few clarifying questions: 1) Why do only some people have the event? Is it possible to wait until everyone does (or to induce the event if it's under experimental control)? 2) You says there's 1 meansurement before and 1 measurement after the event. But you also say the mean group size is 3. I'm not sure what you mean here. 3) Are you using a beta regression because of your dependent variable. $\endgroup$
    – TPM
    Apr 3, 2018 at 19:36
  • $\begingroup$ @TPM, thanks for your clarifying questions. I'll edit the question to include these clarifications. Briefly, 1) all people have the event, but some of them have it more than once; 2) mean group size is 3 means that each person, on average, has 3 events; 3) I am not currently using beta regression. $\endgroup$
    – Gyan Veda
    Apr 3, 2018 at 19:40
  • $\begingroup$ Ah that helps a lot. The only thing I would add is to consider beta regression or some other distribution/link function to handle to ratio DV $\endgroup$
    – TPM
    Apr 3, 2018 at 19:41

2 Answers 2


I am unfamiliar with mixed modeling in python, and I'm not completely certain exactly what the model is that you're fitting. For example, I don't understand how, if your treatment variable is categorical rather than numeric, you are modeling slopes based on that treatment in your model.

What I would do in this situation is, barring any issues with the distributional assumption of normality, fit a mixed model where each response in your dataset is a function of:

  • a fixed effect corresponding to whether the measurement is taken before the first event, between the first and second event, or after the second event (very much like what you seem to have done)

  • plus a random effect for the person (like you seem to have done)

  • plus iid observation specific errors (which I'm assuming the function you're using does)

The equation for this model looks something like:

$Y_{tp} = \mu_{t} + u_{p} + \epsilon_{tp}$, where

$u_{p} \stackrel{iid}{\sim} N(0,\sigma_{u}^2)$

$\epsilon_{tp} \stackrel{iid}{\sim} N(0, \sigma_{\epsilon}^2)$.

Here, $Y_{tp}$ is the observed response for person $p$ at time $t$, where $t \in {0,1,2}$. So $t = 0$ is the before event time, $t = 1$ is the time between the first and second event, and $t = 2$ is the time after the second event. You can assess the effect of the event by looking at $\mu_1 - \mu_0$. Presumably the function you are using in python provides the necessary functionality to get an estimate and the standard error of this quantity.

I will note a few things:

  1. First is that the error term already takes into account the fact that the difference from $t = 0$ to $t = 1$ is different for each person. There is no need to further model "random slopes". Perhaps you were just describing the observation specific random error when you mentioned this, but that was not clear to me.
  2. If you only had two measurements on an individual, as it seems to be the case for most of your data, this model results in a covariance structure that will be the same as if you considered a repeated measures model with an autoregressive covariance structure. The general sense I've gotten from my former statistics professors is that explicitly modeling the temporal structure of your data becomes more necessary as you have measurements over more time points. For two time points, it is unnecessary, and it is likely sufficient to simply consider the random effects model above for three time points.
  3. Modeling repeated measures with an autoregressive type covariance structure requires that measurements are taken at equally spaced time points, and since you don't have the same number of events for each person, this would be a concern for me.
  4. I'm not sure what the "(groups =~ 10k, mean group size = ~ 3)" means, but I'd be concerned that your experimental units are not, in fact, individuals, but groups. This would require further model modification.

The basic approach seems fine, it's just the details of your data and model that aren't clear to me.

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for the thoughtful reply, Nate! You're correct that modeling slopes based on a binary treatment does not make sense and I've removed that feature of my model. Re #3 above, the time points are not guaranteed to be equally spaced (and I presume most aren't in my data) plus since only some people have two events or more a design matrix like the one you suggest will have a lot of missing data. Re #4, groups correspond to the number of values in my random effects variable (~10k people) and mean group size suggests each person has, on average, 1.5 events (x 2 time periods pre-post = 3). $\endgroup$
    – Gyan Veda
    Apr 3, 2018 at 22:11
  • $\begingroup$ Based on the comments in response to the question, I'm thinking of going with the approach suggested by @user333700 above: stats.stackexchange.com/questions/338372/… $\endgroup$
    – Gyan Veda
    Apr 3, 2018 at 22:12

You can have both a random intercept for subjects and a random pre/post slope, as long as you constrain these random effects to be independent.

I will discuss this in the setting where everyone has exactly one pre-treatment and one post-treatment measure (but the logic applies more generally).

If the coding is pre=0 and post=1 for pre_post, then the random slope for pre_post allows you to have "treatment effect heterogeneity" -- the treatment impacts different people in different ways.

The reason that we need the two random effects to be independent is that there are only 3 parameters in the marginal covariance model, since everything is determined by the 2x2 covariance matrix for (pre, post) values. Thus we can only have three variance/covariance parameters in the model (in this case these will be the variances for the subject intercept and pre_post random effects, and the residual variance). One way to achieve this in statsmodels is to use the variance components syntax below (there is another approach that directly constrains the covariance parameter to equal zero).

In the model discussed above, the post measures are more dispersed than the pre measures. In principle you could also have the opposite pattern, where the post measures are more concentrated than the pre measures. To capture this pattern, you could replace pre_post with 1 - pre_post and refit, then select whichever of the two models fits the data better.

          Mixed Linear Model Regression Results
Model:            MixedLM Dependent Variable: dv
No. Observations: 10000   Method:             REML
No. Groups:       5000    Scale:              0.1999
Min. group size:  2       Likelihood:         -20154.5347
Max. group size:  2       Converged:          Yes
Mean group size:  2.0
              Coef.  Std.Err.    z    P>|z| [0.025 0.975]
Intercept     -0.001    0.022  -0.022 0.982 -0.044  0.043
pre_post      -0.983    0.030 -33.326 0.000 -1.041 -0.926
Group RE       2.301    1.315
v RE           3.955    2.290

Here is the code used to generate the data and fit the model:

import numpy as np
import pandas as pd
import statsmodels.api as sm

n = 5000

pre_post = np.kron(np.ones(n), np.r_[0, 1])
person_id = np.kron(np.arange(n), np.r_[1, 1])

person_effects = 1.5 * np.random.normal(size=n)
het = 2 * np.random.normal(size=n)

dv = 0 # Fixed intercept is zero                                                                                                             
dv -= pre_post.copy() # Post fixed effect is -1                                                                                              
dv += person_effects[person_id] # Random person intercept has variance 1.5^2                                                                 
dv += het[person_id] * pre_post # Treatment effect heterogeneity has variance 4                                                              
dv += 0.5*np.random.normal(size=2*n) # Residual variance is 0.25                                                                                  

df = pd.DataFrame({"dv": dv, "pre_post": pre_post, "person_id": person_id})

model = sm.MixedLM.from_formula('dv ~ pre_post', data=df, re_formula='1', vc_formula={"v": "0+pre_post"}, groups='person_id')

result = model.fit(method='cg')

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