BACKGROUND: The network approach to psychopathology conceives mental disorders as sets of symptoms causally impacting on each other. The strengths of the connections between symptoms are key elements in the description of those symptom networks. Typically, the connections are analysed as linear associations (i.e., correlations or regression coefficients). However, there is insufficient awareness of the fact that differences in variance may account for differences in connection strength. Differences in variance frequently occur when subgroups are based on skewed data. An illustrative example is a study published in PLoS One (2013;8(3):e59559) that aimed to test the hypothesis that the development of psychopathology through "staging" was characterized by increasing connection strength between mental states. Three mental states (negative affect, positive affect, and paranoia) were studied in severity subgroups of a general population sample. The connection strength was found to increase with increasing severity in six of nine models. However, the method used (linear mixed modelling) is not suitable for skewed data.
METHODS: We reanalysed the data using inverse Gaussian generalized linear mixed modelling, a method suited for positively skewed data (such as symptoms in the general population).
RESULTS: The distribution of positive affect was normal, but the distributions of negative affect and paranoia were heavily skewed. The variance of the skewed variables increased with increasing severity. Reanalysis of the data did not confirm increasing connection strength, except for one of nine models.
CONCLUSIONS: Reanalysis of the data did not provide convincing evidence in support of staging as characterized by increasing connection strength between mental states. Network researchers should be aware that differences in connection strength between symptoms may be caused by differences in variances, in which case they should not be interpreted as differences in impact of one symptom on another symptom.
- Linear Models
- Middle Aged
- Normal Distribution
- Paranoid Disorders
- Severity of Illness Index
- Young Adult
- Journal Article