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Latent Growth Curve Models for Biomarkers of the Stress Response


Objective: The stress response is a dynamic process that can be characterized by predictable biochemical and psychological changes. Biomarkers of the stress response are typically measured over time and require statistical methods that can model change over time. One flexible method of evaluating change over time is the latent growth curve model (LGCM). However, stress researchers seldom use the LGCM when studying biomarkers, despite their benefits. Stress researchers may be unaware of how these methods can be useful. Therefore, the purpose of this paper is to provide an overview of LGCMs in the context of stress research. We specifically highlight the unique benefits of using these approaches. Methods: Hypothetical examples are used to describe four forms of the LGCM. Results: The following four specifications of the LGCM are described: basic LGCM, latent growth mixture model, piecewise LGCM, and LGCM for two parallel processes. The specifications of the LGCM are discussed in the context of the Trier Social Stress Test. Beyond the discussion of the four models, we present issues of modeling nonlinear patterns of change, assessing model fit, and linking specific research questions regarding biomarker research using different statistical models. Conclusions: The final sections of the paper discuss statistical software packages and more advanced modeling capabilities of LGCMs. The online Appendix contains example code with annotation from two statistical programs for the LCGM.

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