What is ANCOVA – Analysis of covariance?

ANCOVA (Analysis of covariance) is a general linear model which blends ANOVA and regression. ANCOVA evaluates whether population means of a dependent variable (DV) are equal across levels of a categorical independent variable (IV) often called a treatment, while statistically controlling for the effects of other continuous variables that are not of primary interest, known as covariates (CV) or nuisance variables. Mathematically, ANCOVA decomposes the variance in the DV into variance explained by the CV(s), variance explained by the categorical IV, and residual variance. Intuitively, ANCOVA can be thought of as ‘adjusting’ the DV by the group means of the CV(s). ANCOVA can be used to increase statistical power (the ability to find a significant difference between groups when one exists) by reducing the within-group error variance. In order to understand this, it is necessary to understand the test used to evaluate differences between groups, the F-test. The F-test is computed by dividing the explained variance between groups (e.g., gender difference) by the unexplained variance within the groups. Another use of ANCOVA is to adjust for pre-existing differences in non-equivalent groups. This application aims at correcting for initial group differences that exists on DV among several intact groups.

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