I'm new to circular stats and have been playing with and . I'm not sure how to interpret the output. I have consulted the CrossValidated database, and the papers/tutorials associated with the mentioned packages. However, my limited mathematics background prevents me from generalizing to my case.

I have a circular dependent variable and two circular independent variables. My goal is to compare how strongly the two independent variables predict the dependent variable:

$$outangle = b1*angle1 + b2*angle2$$

I understand that for the mentioned packages I should include two linear predictors per circular predictor:

$$outangle = b1*sin(angle1) + b2*cos(angle1) + b3*sin(angle2) + b4*cos(angle2)$$

The models run, but I don't know how to interpret their output (since there are two predictors per variable). I would like to be able to say something like "angle 1 contributes the most to the outcome angle, while angle 2 also contributes but less strongly". In other words: how can I convert the output from the two linear predictors to represent a single coefficient for the circular variable? The outputs from the two packages are also quite different. I understand that they are using different methods, i.e. bpnreg uses the projected normal distribution, but ultimately I would expect them to produce the same qualitative answer.

Simplified example code and output are pasted below:


# test data
angles1  <- c(1,   1.1, 0.9, 2,   1.5, 2.5, 3.0, 0.5)
angles2  <- c(1.2, 0.7, 1.0, 2.3, 1.4, 2.8, 0.1, 0.2)
outangle <- c(1.1, 1,   0.8, 2.1, 1.4, 2.7, 3.1, 0.4)

# find linear components
sori1 <- sin(angles1)
cori1 <- cos(angles1)
sori2 <- sin(angles2)
cori2 <- cos(angles2)

# make dataframe
df  <- data.frame(outangle, sori1, cori1, sori2, cori2)

# run bpnr regression
circfit <- bpnr(outangle ~ 1 + sori1 + cori1 + sori2 + cori2, df)

# run circGLM regression
circfit2 <- circGLM(outangle ~ 1 + sori1 + cori1 + sori2 + cori2, df)

(truncated) output for bpnr:

Linear Coefficients 

Component I: 
                 mean      mode        sd     LB HPD    UB HPD
(Intercept) -31.38534 -34.43952 16.939204 -63.276156 -1.988348
sori1        53.25621  77.42373 29.152543  -2.583563 96.693508
cori1        12.73618  12.34990  5.416473   4.027589 24.099637
sori2       -21.23710 -27.35492 16.259473 -48.074359  9.390253
cori2        21.34205  28.25890 11.224285  -2.308050 36.577529

Component II: 
                 mean      mode        sd     LB HPD      UB HPD
(Intercept) -33.16929 -49.09227 19.125987 -58.474295   1.0513257
sori1       108.48108 156.23939 56.547787   5.689475 182.3388648
cori1       -12.65639 -17.02416  7.716536 -24.791198   0.5974747
sori2       -43.46557 -68.49125 29.332958 -83.259452   8.4257935
cori2        10.43962  16.47495  6.794084  -1.659991  20.2801103

Circular Coefficients 

Continuous variables: 
         mean ax    mode ax     sd ax      LB ax     UB ax
sori1  0.3582156  0.3453063 0.2579013  0.1491464 0.6097201
cori1 -0.3463878  0.4257769 0.9575427 -2.0946958 1.1603828
sori2 -0.6953270 -0.8023903 1.6901613 -2.0029269 1.5081406
cori2  1.6737354  1.7497827 1.2241280 -1.0348414 3.3354418

(truncated) output for circGLM:

          Estimate     SD     LB      UB
Intercept    1.604  0.061  1.493   1.712
Kappa       56.128 47.798  2.052 168.050
sori1       -0.150  0.099 -0.359   0.039
cori1       -0.522  0.092 -0.680  -0.344
sori2        0.108  0.077 -0.049   0.250
cori2        0.016  0.072 -0.129   0.189

1 Answer 1


The short answer is that there is no way to compute a singular coefficient from a circular predictor, so that if we want to quantify the effect of a single circular predictor, we have to use something such as model fit or information criteria.

Why we have this problem

Interpreting the cos and sin coefficients separately will not work, as that would mean that if we rotate the predictor, which should not change the strength of its effect, we would get different credible intervals for both the cos and sin predictor components. Also, in almost all cases, the model with only one of the two elements of the predictor (cos and sin) does not make sense and should not be interpreted. So, we should only add both or add neither to the model.

Finally, I should try to prevent confusion: the bpnreg model doesn't only have a cos and sin component of the predictor; it also splits the circular outcome into Component I (cos) and Component II (sin).

How to compare models with model fit or information criteria

The approach (which I will simplify for clarity to have only one circular predictor instead of the two you have) could be something like this:

  • Run the model without the circular predictor, call this M1.
  • Run the model with the circular predictor, call this M2.
  • Compare the two models M1 and M2. We can do this in several ways, in increasing complexity:
    • Compare the DIC from one model to the next, and prefer the model with the lowest BIC. This is given by default in both packages.
    • Same as above, but with WAIC. This is given by both packages as well, and is generally a little bit better than the DIC.
    • Compute the Marginal Likelihood for each model, and calculate the associated Bayes Factor which is the ratio between Marginal Likelihoods. This is an option in the package circbayes, but that package is still somewhat experimental. You can also do it yourself with the bridgesampling package, but it is more complicated. This is the best option, but the most complex one to implement.
    • If the end goal is active prediction, cross-validation is an option as well.

As you have two circular predictors, the process is the same, but there are four models to compare.

(Full disclosure: I am the author of circglmbayes.)

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Thanks much for your response! If I understand correctly, the model comparison approach would tell me whether the added predictors improve the model, i.e. have a meaningful relationship with the independent variable. However, this doesn't allow me to compare the predictors, i.e. which is most strongly predicting the independent? $\endgroup$
    – frogpool
    May 23, 2021 at 15:03
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Also, what IS then the interpretation of the individual (linear) predictor coefficients? Am I right in assuming that for instance, sin(angle) predicts the influence of the sine component of angle on the sine component of the outcome (etc)? $\endgroup$
    – frogpool
    May 23, 2021 at 15:04
  • $\begingroup$ On the first question, you can interpret the strength of the effect as the amount of improvement in model fit. If the one predictor increases the model fit more than the other, it is a stronger predictor. However, there is no intuitive scale: we can not say that one predictor is twice as strong as another. I do not know any way around this. $\endgroup$ May 23, 2021 at 19:16
  • $\begingroup$ For the second question: I would recommend against trying to get a direct interpretation here, because it is likely too contrived to intuitively understand. Regardless: The real interpretation is that the parameter is the result of a transformation of the model where circular predictor phi is predicted by a * cos(phi + b), which we rewrite to (something like) a * cos(b) * cos(phi) + a * sin(b) * sin(phi), so that if we calculate cos(phi) and sin(phi) we can estimate a * cos(b) and a * sin(b) by linear regression. So the interpretation of the parameters is they are a * cos(b) and a * sin(b). $\endgroup$ May 23, 2021 at 19:25

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