Are your covariates under control? How normalization can re-introduce covariate effects.
journal contributionposted on 2019-05-31, 14:34 authored by Oliver Pain, Frank Dudbridge, Angelica Ronald
Many statistical tests rely on the assumption that the residuals of a model are normally distributed. Rank-based inverse normal transformation (INT) of the dependent variable is one of the most popular approaches to satisfy the normality assumption. When covariates are included in the analysis, a common approach is to first adjust for the covariates and then normalize the residuals. This study investigated the effect of regressing covariates against the dependent variable and then applying rank-based INT to the residuals. The correlation between the dependent variable and covariates at each stage of processing was assessed. An alternative approach was tested in which rank-based INT was applied to the dependent variable before regressing covariates. Analyses based on both simulated and real data examples demonstrated that applying rank-based INT to the dependent variable residuals after regressing out covariates re-introduces a linear correlation between the dependent variable and covariates, increasing type-I errors and reducing power. On the other hand, when rank-based INT was applied prior to controlling for covariate effects, residuals were normally distributed and linearly uncorrelated with covariates. This latter approach is therefore recommended in situations were normality of the dependent variable is required.