Improving Practices for Selecting a Subset of Important Predictors in Psychology: An Application to Predicting Pain

Sierra A. Bainter, Thomas G. McCauley, Tor Wager, Elizabeth A.Reynolds Losin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


Frequently, researchers in psychology are faced with the challenge of narrowing down a large set of predictors to a smaller subset. There are a variety of ways to do this, but commonly it is done by choosing predictors with the strongest bivariate correlations with the outcome. However, when predictors are correlated, bivariate relationships may not translate into multivariate relationships. Further, any attempts to control for multiple testing are likely to result in extremely low power. Here we introduce a Bayesian variable-selection procedure frequently used in other disciplines, stochastic search variable selection (SSVS). We apply this technique to choosing the best set of predictors of the perceived unpleasantness of an experimental pain stimulus from among a large group of sociocultural, psychological, and neurobiological (functional MRI) individual-difference measures. Using SSVS provides information about which variables predict the outcome, controlling for uncertainty in the other variables of the model. This approach yields new, useful information to guide the choice of relevant predictors. We have provided Web-based open-source software for performing SSVS and visualizing the results.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)66-80
Number of pages15
JournalAdvances in Methods and Practices in Psychological Science
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Psychology

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