Out of sight, not out of mind: strategies for handling missing data

Am J Health Behav. 2008 Jan-Feb;32(1):83-92. doi: 10.5555/ajhb.2008.32.1.83.


Objective: To describe and illustrate missing data mechanisms (MCAR, MAR, NMAR) and missing data techniques (MDTs) and offer recommended best practices for addressing missingness.

Method: We simulated data sets and employed ad hoc MDTs (deletion techniques, mean substitution) and sophisticated MDTs (full information maximum likelihood, Bayesian estimation, multiple imputation) in linear regression analyses.

Results: MCAR data yielded unbiased parameter estimates across all MDTs, but loss of power with deletion methods. NMAR results were biased towards larger values and greater significance. Under MAR the sophisticated MDTs returned estimates closer to their original values.

Conclusion: State-of-the-art, readily available MDTs outperform ad hoc techniques.

MeSH terms

  • Bayes Theorem
  • Behavioral Research / statistics & numerical data*
  • Bias*
  • Data Interpretation, Statistical*
  • Health Behavior
  • Humans
  • United States