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Detecting multivariate outliers : use a robust variant of the Mahalanobis distance

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Abstract
A look at the psychology literature reveals that researchers still seem to encounter difficulties in coping with multivariate outliers. Multivariate outliers can severely distort the estimation of population parameters. Detecting multivariate outliers is mainly disregarded or done by using the basic Mahalanobis distance. However, that indicator uses the multivariate sample mean and covariance matrix that are particularly sensitive to outliers. Hence, this method is problematic. We highlight the disadvantages of the basic Mahalanobis distance and argue instead in favor of a robust Mahalanobis distance. In particular, we present a variant based on the Minimum Covariance Determinant, a more robust procedure that is easy to implement. Using Monte Carlo simulations of bivariate sample distributions varying in size (ns = 20, 100, 500) and population correlation coefficient (p = .10, .30, .50), we demonstrate the detrimental impact of outliers on parameter estimation and show the superiority of the MCD over the Mahalanobis distance. We also make recommendations for deciding whether to include vs. exclude outliers. Finally, we provide the procedures for calculating this indicator in R and SPSS software.
Keywords
COVARIANCE DETERMINANT ESTIMATOR, PSYCHOLOGY, REGRESSION, LOCATION, POWER

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Please use this url to cite or link to this publication:

Chicago
Leys, Christophe, Olivier Klein, Yves Dominicy, and Christophe Ley. 2018. “Detecting Multivariate Outliers : Use a Robust Variant of the Mahalanobis Distance.” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 74: 150–156.
APA
Leys, C., Klein, O., Dominicy, Y., & Ley, C. (2018). Detecting multivariate outliers : use a robust variant of the Mahalanobis distance. JOURNAL OF EXPERIMENTAL SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY, 74, 150–156.
Vancouver
1.
Leys C, Klein O, Dominicy Y, Ley C. Detecting multivariate outliers : use a robust variant of the Mahalanobis distance. JOURNAL OF EXPERIMENTAL SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY. 2018;74:150–6.
MLA
Leys, Christophe, Olivier Klein, Yves Dominicy, et al. “Detecting Multivariate Outliers : Use a Robust Variant of the Mahalanobis Distance.” JOURNAL OF EXPERIMENTAL SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY 74 (2018): 150–156. Print.
@article{8548274,
  abstract     = {A look at the psychology literature reveals that researchers still seem to encounter difficulties in coping with multivariate outliers. Multivariate outliers can severely distort the estimation of population parameters. Detecting multivariate outliers is mainly disregarded or done by using the basic Mahalanobis distance. However, that indicator uses the multivariate sample mean and covariance matrix that are particularly sensitive to outliers. Hence, this method is problematic. We highlight the disadvantages of the basic Mahalanobis distance and argue instead in favor of a robust Mahalanobis distance. In particular, we present a variant based on the Minimum Covariance Determinant, a more robust procedure that is easy to implement. Using Monte Carlo simulations of bivariate sample distributions varying in size (ns = 20, 100, 500) and population correlation coefficient (p = .10, .30, .50), we demonstrate the detrimental impact of outliers on parameter estimation and show the superiority of the MCD over the Mahalanobis distance. We also make recommendations for deciding whether to include vs. exclude outliers. Finally, we provide the procedures for calculating this indicator in R and SPSS software.},
  author       = {Leys, Christophe and Klein, Olivier and Dominicy, Yves and Ley, Christophe},
  issn         = {0022-1031},
  journal      = {JOURNAL OF EXPERIMENTAL SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY},
  keyword      = {COVARIANCE DETERMINANT ESTIMATOR,PSYCHOLOGY,REGRESSION,LOCATION,POWER},
  language     = {eng},
  pages        = {150--156},
  title        = {Detecting multivariate outliers : use a robust variant of the Mahalanobis distance},
  url          = {http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jesp.2017.09.011},
  volume       = {74},
  year         = {2018},
}

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