Not quite normal: Consequences of violating the assumption of normality in regression mixture models

Struct Equ Modeling. 2012;19(2):227-249. doi: 10.1080/10705511.2012.659622. Epub 2012 May 17.


Regression mixture models are a new approach for finding differential effects which have only recently begun to be used in applied research. This approach comes at the cost of the assumption that error terms are normally distributed within classes. The current study uses Monte Carlo simulations to explore the effects of relatively minor violations of this assumption, the use of an ordered polytomous outcome is then examined as an alternative which makes somewhat weaker assumptions, and finally both approaches are demonstrated with an applied example looking at differences in the effects of family management on the highly skewed outcome of drug use. Results show that violating the assumption of normal errors results in systematic bias in both latent class enumeration and parameter estimates. Additional classes which reflect violations of distributional assumptions are found. Under some conditions it is possible to come to conclusions that are consistent with the effects in the population, but when errors are skewed in both classes the results typically no longer reflect even the pattern of effects in the population. The polytomous regression model performs better under all scenarios examined and comes to reasonable results with the highly skewed outcome in the applied example. We recommend that careful evaluation of model sensitivity to distributional assumptions be the norm when conducting regression mixture models.