Assumptions and Effects of Violating Assumptions - Sphericity and Compound Symmetry

Reasons for Using the Multivariate Approach to Repeated Measures ANOVA. In repeated measures ANOVA containing repeated measures factors with more than two levels, additional special assumptions enter the picture: The compound symmetry assumption and the assumption of sphericity. Because these assumptions rarely hold (see below), the MANOVA approach to repeated measures ANOVA has gained popularity in recent years (both tests are automatically computed in ANOVA/MANOVA).

Compound symmetry and sphericity. The compound symmetry assumption requires that the variances (pooled within-group) and covariances (across subjects) of the different repeated measures are homogeneous (identical). This is a sufficient condition for the univariate F test for repeated measures to be valid (i.e., for the reported F values to actually follow the F distribution). However, it is not a necessary condition. The sphericity assumption is a necessary and sufficient condition for the F-test to be valid; it states that the within-subject "model" consists of independent (orthogonal) components. The nature of these assumptions, and the effects of violations are usually not well-described in ANOVA textbooks; in the following paragraphs we will try to clarify this matter and explain what it means when the results of the univariate approach differ from the multivariate approach to repeated measures ANOVA.

The necessity of independent hypotheses. One general way of looking at ANOVA is to consider it a model fitting procedure. In a sense we bring to our data a set of a priori hypotheses; we then partition the variance (test main effects, interactions) to test those hypotheses. Computationally, this approach translates into generating a set of contrasts (comparisons between means in the design) that specify the main effect and interaction hypotheses. However, if these contrasts are not independent of each other, then the partitioning of variances runs afoul. For example, if two contrasts A and B are identical to each other and we partition out their components from the total variance, then we take the same thing out twice. Intuitively, specifying the two (not independent) hypotheses "the mean in Cell 1 is higher than the mean in Cell 2" and "the mean in Cell 1 is higher than the mean in Cell 2" is silly and simply makes no sense. Thus, hypotheses must be independent of each other, or orthogonal (the term orthogonality was first used by Yates, 1933).

Independent hypotheses in repeated measures. The general algorithm implemented in ANOVA/MANOVA will attempt to generate, for each effect, a set of independent (orthogonal) contrasts (see also, Estimability of Hypotheses in GLM). In repeated measures ANOVA, these contrasts specify a set of hypotheses about differences between the levels of the repeated measures factor. However, if these differences are correlated across subjects, then the resulting contrasts are no longer independent. For example, in a study where we measured learning at three times during the experimental session, it may happen that the changes from time 1 to time 2 are negatively correlated with the changes from time 2 to time 3: subjects who learn most of the material between time 1 and time 2 improve less from time 2 to time 3. In fact, in most instances where a repeated measures ANOVA is used, one would probably suspect that the changes across levels are correlated across subjects. However, when this happens, the compound symmetry and sphericity assumptions have been violated, and independent contrasts cannot be computed.

Effects of violations and remedies. When the compound symmetry or sphericity assumptions have been violated, the univariate ANOVA table will give erroneous results. Before multivariate procedures were well understood, various approximations were introduced to compensate for the violations (e.g., Greenhouse & Geisser, 1959; Huynh & Feldt, 1970), and these techniques are still widely used (therefore, ANOVA/MANOVA and GLM provide those methods).

MANOVA approach to repeated measures. To summarize, the problem of compound symmetry and sphericity pertains to the fact that multiple contrasts involved in testing repeated measures effects (with more than two levels) are not independent of each other. However, they do not need to be independent of each other if we use multivariate criteria to simultaneously test the statistical significance of the two or more repeated measures contrasts. This "insight" is the reason why MANOVA methods are increasingly applied to test the significance of univariate repeated measures factors with more than two levels. We wholeheartedly endorse this approach because it simply bypasses the assumption of compound symmetry and sphericity altogether.

Cases when the MANOVA approach cannot be used. There are instances (designs) when the MANOVA approach cannot be applied; specifically, when there are few subjects in the design and many levels on the repeated measures factor, there may not be enough degrees of freedom to perform the multivariate analysis. For example, if we have 4 subjects and a repeated measures factor with 5 levels the multivariate test cannot be computed. ANOVA/MANOVA will detect those instances and only compute the univariate tests.

Differences in univariate and multivariate results. Anyone whose research involves extensive repeated measures designs has seen cases when the univariate approach to repeated measures ANOVA gives clearly different results from the multivariate approach. To repeat the point, this means that the differences between the levels of the respective repeated measures factors are in some way correlated across subjects. Sometimes, this insight by itself is of considerable interest.