Model selection and psychological theory: a discussion of the differences between the Akaike information criterion (AIC) and the Bayesian information criterion (BIC)

Psychol Methods. 2012 Jun;17(2):228-43. doi: 10.1037/a0027127. Epub 2012 Feb 6.


This article reviews the Akaike information criterion (AIC) and the Bayesian information criterion (BIC) in model selection and the appraisal of psychological theory. The focus is on latent variable models, given their growing use in theory testing and construction. Theoretical statistical results in regression are discussed, and more important issues are illustrated with novel simulations involving latent variable models including factor analysis, latent profile analysis, and factor mixture models. Asymptotically, the BIC is consistent, in that it will select the true model if, among other assumptions, the true model is among the candidate models considered. The AIC is not consistent under these circumstances. When the true model is not in the candidate model set the AIC is efficient, in that it will asymptotically choose whichever model minimizes the mean squared error of prediction/estimation. The BIC is not efficient under these circumstances. Unlike the BIC, the AIC also has a minimax property, in that it can minimize the maximum possible risk in finite sample sizes. In sum, the AIC and BIC have quite different properties that require different assumptions, and applied researchers and methodologists alike will benefit from improved understanding of the asymptotic and finite-sample behavior of these criteria. The ultimate decision to use the AIC or BIC depends on many factors, including the loss function employed, the study's methodological design, the substantive research question, and the notion of a true model and its applicability to the study at hand.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Bayes Theorem*
  • Data Interpretation, Statistical
  • Factor Analysis, Statistical
  • Humans
  • Likelihood Functions
  • Models, Statistical*
  • Monte Carlo Method
  • Nonlinear Dynamics
  • Psychological Theory*
  • Psychology / statistics & numerical data*
  • Statistics as Topic / methods*