A solution to dependency: using multilevel analysis to accommodate nested data

Emmeke Aarts, Matthijs Verhage, Jesse V Veenvliet, Conor V Dolan, Sophie van der Sluis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


In neuroscience, experimental designs in which multiple observations are collected from a single research object (for example, multiple neurons from one animal) are common: 53% of 314 reviewed papers from five renowned journals included this type of data. These so-called 'nested designs' yield data that cannot be considered to be independent, and so violate the independency assumption of conventional statistical methods such as the t test. Ignoring this dependency results in a probability of incorrectly concluding that an effect is statistically significant that is far higher (up to 80%) than the nominal α level (usually set at 5%). We discuss the factors affecting the type I error rate and the statistical power in nested data, methods that accommodate dependency between observations and ways to determine the optimal study design when data are nested. Notably, optimization of experimental designs nearly always concerns collection of more truly independent observations, rather than more observations from one research object.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)491-496
Number of pages6
JournalNature Neuroscience
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Animals
  • Biomedical Research
  • Data Interpretation, Statistical
  • Humans
  • Neurosciences
  • Research Design


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