On the Multilevel Nature of Meta-Analysis: A Tutorial, Comparison of Software Programs, and Discussion of Analytic Choices

2017-11-03T17:51:12Z (GMT) by Dena A. Pastor Rory A. Lazowski
<p>The term “multilevel meta-analysis” is encountered not only in applied research studies, but in multilevel resources comparing traditional meta-analysis to multilevel meta-analysis. In this tutorial, we argue that the term “multilevel meta-analysis” is redundant since all meta-analysis can be formulated as a special kind of multilevel model. To clarify the multilevel nature of meta-analysis the four standard meta-analytic models are presented using multilevel equations and fit to an example data set using four software programs: two specific to meta-analysis (metafor in R and SPSS macros) and two specific to multilevel modeling (PROC MIXED in SAS and HLM). The same parameter estimates are obtained across programs underscoring that all meta-analyses are multilevel in nature. Despite the equivalent results, not all software programs are alike and differences are noted in the output provided and estimators available. This tutorial also recasts distinctions made in the literature between traditional and multilevel meta-analysis as differences between meta-analytic <i>choices</i>, not between meta-analytic <i>models</i>, and provides guidance to inform choices in estimators, significance tests, moderator analyses, and modeling sequence. The extent to which the software programs allow flexibility with respect to these decisions is noted, with metafor emerging as the most favorable program reviewed.</p>