The Square-Root Scree Plot: A Simple Improvement to a Classic Display

OpenPsych , Nov. 19, 2022, ISSN: 2597-324X


Scree plots are ubiquitous in applications of exploratory factor analysis (EFA) and principal component analysis (PCA); they are used to visualize the relative importance of different factors/components and display the results of selection procedures (e.g., parallel analysis). Because the eigenvalues shown in the scree plot indicate the amounts of variance accounted for by the corresponding factors/components, they tend to give a distorted picture of the relative importance of the factors/components with respect to the original units of the variables. Specifically, variances inflate the apparent importance of large effects and deflate that of small effects; as a result, traditional scree plots exaggerate the differences between larger and smaller factors/components, and flatten the visual representation of the smaller ones. In this brief note, I propose a simple solution in the form of square-root scree plots, i.e., scree plots based on the square root of the eigenvalues. Square-root scree plots provide a balanced display of the relative importance of the factors/components, and a more legible representation of the smaller ones. They are a useful addition to the toolkit of EFA and PCA, and may be preferable as a default option in most common applications.

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principal component analysis, scree plot, factor analysis, Eigenvalues

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