Analysis Types

Factor Analysis – Steps, Methods and Examples

Factor Analysis

Factor Analysis


Factor analysis is a statistical technique that is used to identify the underlying structure of a relatively large set of variables and to explain these variables in terms of a smaller number of common underlying factors. It helps to investigate the latent relationships between observed variables.

Factor Analysis Steps

Here are the general steps involved in conducting a factor analysis:

1. Define the Research Objective:

Clearly specify the purpose of the factor analysis. Determine what you aim to achieve or understand through the analysis.

2. Data Collection:

Gather the data on the variables of interest. These variables should be measurable and related to the research objective. Ensure that you have a sufficient sample size for reliable results.

3. Assess Data Suitability:

Examine the suitability of the data for factor analysis. Check for the following aspects:

  • Sample size: Ensure that you have an adequate sample size to perform factor analysis reliably.
  • Missing values: Handle missing data appropriately, either by imputation or exclusion.
  • Variable characteristics: Verify that the variables are continuous or at least ordinal in nature. Categorical variables may require different analysis techniques.
  • Linearity: Assess whether the relationships among variables are linear.

4. Determine the Factor Analysis Technique:

There are different types of factor analysis techniques available, such as exploratory factor analysis (EFA) and confirmatory factor analysis (CFA). Choose the appropriate technique based on your research objective and the nature of the data.

5. Perform Factor Analysis:

   a. Exploratory Factor Analysis (EFA):

  • Extract factors: Use factor extraction methods (e.g., principal component analysis or common factor analysis) to identify the initial set of factors.
  • Determine the number of factors: Decide on the number of factors to retain based on statistical criteria (e.g., eigenvalues, scree plot) and theoretical considerations.
  • Rotate factors: Apply factor rotation techniques (e.g., varimax, oblique) to simplify the factor structure and make it more interpretable.
  • Interpret factors: Analyze the factor loadings (correlations between variables and factors) to interpret the meaning of each factor.
  • Determine factor reliability: Assess the internal consistency or reliability of the factors using measures like Cronbach’s alpha.
  • Report results: Document the factor loadings, rotated component matrix, communalities, and any other relevant information.

   b. Confirmatory Factor Analysis (CFA):

  • Formulate a theoretical model: Specify the hypothesized relationships among variables and factors based on prior knowledge or theoretical considerations.
  • Define measurement model: Establish how each variable is related to the underlying factors by assigning factor loadings in the model.
  • Test the model: Use statistical techniques like maximum likelihood estimation or structural equation modeling to assess the goodness-of-fit between the observed data and the hypothesized model.
  • Modify the model: If the initial model does not fit the data adequately, revise the model by adding or removing paths, allowing for correlated errors, or other modifications to improve model fit.
  • Report results: Present the final measurement model, parameter estimates, fit indices (e.g., chi-square, RMSEA, CFI), and any modifications made.

6. Interpret and Validate the Factors:

Once you have identified the factors, interpret them based on the factor loadings, theoretical understanding, and research objectives. Validate the factors by examining their relationships with external criteria or by conducting further analyses if necessary.

Types of Factor Analysis

Types of Factor Analysis are as follows:

Exploratory Factor Analysis (EFA)

EFA is used to explore the underlying structure of a set of observed variables without any preconceived assumptions about the number or nature of the factors. It aims to discover the number of factors and how the observed variables are related to those factors. EFA does not impose any restrictions on the factor structure and allows for cross-loadings of variables on multiple factors.

Confirmatory Factor Analysis (CFA)

CFA is used to test a pre-specified factor structure based on theoretical or conceptual assumptions. It aims to confirm whether the observed variables measure the latent factors as intended. CFA tests the fit of a hypothesized model and assesses how well the observed variables are associated with the expected factors. It is often used for validating measurement instruments or evaluating theoretical models.

Principal Component Analysis (PCA)

PCA is a dimensionality reduction technique that can be considered a form of factor analysis, although it has some differences. PCA aims to explain the maximum amount of variance in the observed variables using a smaller number of uncorrelated components. Unlike traditional factor analysis, PCA does not assume that the observed variables are caused by underlying factors but focuses solely on accounting for variance.

Common Factor Analysis

It assumes that the observed variables are influenced by common factors and unique factors (specific to each variable). It attempts to estimate the common factor structure by extracting the shared variance among the variables while also considering the unique variance of each variable.

Hierarchical Factor Analysis

Hierarchical factor analysis involves multiple levels of factors. It explores both higher-order and lower-order factors, aiming to capture the complex relationships among variables. Higher-order factors are based on the relationships among lower-order factors, which are in turn based on the relationships among observed variables.

Factor Analysis Formulas

Factor Analysis is a statistical method used to describe variability among observed, correlated variables in terms of a potentially lower number of unobserved variables called factors.

Here are some of the essential formulas and calculations used in factor analysis:

Correlation Matrix:

The first step in factor analysis is to create a correlation matrix, which calculates the correlation coefficients between pairs of variables.

Correlation coefficient (Pearson’s r) between variables X and Y is calculated as:

r(X,Y) = Σ[(xi – x̄)(yi – ȳ)] / [n-1]σxσy

xi, yi are the data points,
x̄, ȳ are the means of X and Y respectively,
σx, σy are the standard deviations of X and Y respectively,
n is the number of data points.

Extraction of Factors:

The extraction of factors from the correlation matrix is typically done by methods such as Principal Component Analysis (PCA) or other similar methods.

The formula used in PCA to calculate the principal components (factors) involves finding the eigenvalues and eigenvectors of the correlation matrix.

Let’s denote the correlation matrix as R. If λ is an eigenvalue of R, and v is the corresponding eigenvector, they satisfy the equation: Rv = λv

Factor Loadings:

Factor loadings are the correlations between the original variables and the factors. They can be calculated as the eigenvectors normalized by the square roots of their corresponding eigenvalues.

Communality and Specific Variance:

Communality of a variable is the proportion of variance in that variable explained by the factors. It can be calculated as the sum of squared factor loadings for that variable across all factors.

The specific variance of a variable is the proportion of variance in that variable not explained by the factors, and it’s calculated as 1 – Communality.

Factor Rotation: Factor rotation, such as Varimax or Promax, is used to make the output more interpretable. It doesn’t change the underlying relationships but affects the loadings of the variables on the factors.

For example, in the Varimax rotation, the objective is to minimize the variance of the squared loadings of a factor (column) on all the variables (rows) in a factor matrix, which leads to more high and low loadings, making the factor easier to interpret.

Examples of Factor Analysis

Here are some real-time examples of factor analysis:

  • Psychological Research: In a study examining personality traits, researchers may use factor analysis to identify the underlying dimensions of personality by analyzing responses to various questionnaires or surveys. Factors such as extroversion, neuroticism, and conscientiousness can be derived from the analysis.
  • Market Research: In marketing, factor analysis can be used to understand consumers’ preferences and behaviors. For instance, by analyzing survey data related to product features, pricing, and brand perception, researchers can identify factors such as price sensitivity, brand loyalty, and product quality that influence consumer decision-making.
  • Finance and Economics: Factor analysis is widely used in portfolio management and asset pricing models. By analyzing historical market data, factors such as market returns, interest rates, inflation rates, and other economic indicators can be identified. These factors help in understanding and predicting investment returns and risk.
  • Social Sciences: Factor analysis is employed in social sciences to explore underlying constructs in complex datasets. For example, in education research, factor analysis can be used to identify dimensions such as academic achievement, socio-economic status, and parental involvement that contribute to student success.
  • Health Sciences: In medical research, factor analysis can be utilized to identify underlying factors related to health conditions, symptom clusters, or treatment outcomes. For instance, in a study on mental health, factor analysis can be used to identify underlying factors contributing to depression, anxiety, and stress.
  • Customer Satisfaction Surveys: Factor analysis can help businesses understand the key drivers of customer satisfaction. By analyzing survey responses related to various aspects of product or service experience, factors such as product quality, customer service, and pricing can be identified, enabling businesses to focus on areas that impact customer satisfaction the most.

Factor analysis in Research Example

Here’s an example of how factor analysis might be used in research:

Let’s say a psychologist is interested in the factors that contribute to overall wellbeing. They conduct a survey with 1000 participants, asking them to respond to 50 different questions relating to various aspects of their lives, including social relationships, physical health, mental health, job satisfaction, financial security, personal growth, and leisure activities.

Given the broad scope of these questions, the psychologist decides to use factor analysis to identify underlying factors that could explain the correlations among responses.

After conducting the factor analysis, the psychologist finds that the responses can be grouped into five factors:

  • Physical Wellbeing: Includes variables related to physical health, exercise, and diet.
  • Mental Wellbeing: Includes variables related to mental health, stress levels, and emotional balance.
  • Social Wellbeing: Includes variables related to social relationships, community involvement, and support from friends and family.
  • Professional Wellbeing: Includes variables related to job satisfaction, work-life balance, and career development.
  • Financial Wellbeing: Includes variables related to financial security, savings, and income.

By reducing the 50 individual questions to five underlying factors, the psychologist can more effectively analyze the data and draw conclusions about the major aspects of life that contribute to overall wellbeing.

In this way, factor analysis helps researchers understand complex relationships among many variables by grouping them into a smaller number of factors, simplifying the data analysis process, and facilitating the identification of patterns or structures within the data.

When to Use Factor Analysis

Here are some circumstances in which you might want to use factor analysis:

  • Data Reduction: If you have a large set of variables, you can use factor analysis to reduce them to a smaller set of factors. This helps in simplifying the data and making it easier to analyze.
  • Identification of Underlying Structures: Factor analysis can be used to identify underlying structures in a dataset that are not immediately apparent. This can help you understand complex relationships between variables.
  • Validation of Constructs: Factor analysis can be used to confirm whether a scale or measure truly reflects the construct it’s meant to measure. If all the items in a scale load highly on a single factor, that supports the construct validity of the scale.
  • Generating Hypotheses: By revealing the underlying structure of your variables, factor analysis can help to generate hypotheses for future research.
  • Survey Analysis: If you have a survey with many questions, factor analysis can help determine if there are underlying factors that explain response patterns.

Applications of Factor Analysis

Factor Analysis has a wide range of applications across various fields. Here are some of them:

  • Psychology: It’s often used in psychology to identify the underlying factors that explain different patterns of correlations among mental abilities. For instance, factor analysis has been used to identify personality traits (like the Big Five personality traits), intelligence structures (like Spearman’s g), or to validate the constructs of different psychological tests.
  • Market Research: In this field, factor analysis is used to identify the factors that influence purchasing behavior. By understanding these factors, businesses can tailor their products and marketing strategies to meet the needs of different customer groups.
  • Healthcare: In healthcare, factor analysis is used in a similar way to psychology, identifying underlying factors that might influence health outcomes. For instance, it could be used to identify lifestyle or behavioral factors that influence the risk of developing certain diseases.
  • Sociology: Sociologists use factor analysis to understand the structure of attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors in populations. For example, factor analysis might be used to understand the factors that contribute to social inequality.
  • Finance and Economics: In finance, factor analysis is used to identify the factors that drive financial markets or economic behavior. For instance, factor analysis can help understand the factors that influence stock prices or economic growth.
  • Education: In education, factor analysis is used to identify the factors that influence academic performance or attitudes towards learning. This could help in developing more effective teaching strategies.
  • Survey Analysis: Factor analysis is often used in survey research to reduce the number of items or to identify the underlying structure of the data.
  • Environment: In environmental studies, factor analysis can be used to identify the major sources of environmental pollution by analyzing the data on pollutants.

Advantages of Factor Analysis

Advantages of Factor Analysis are as follows:

  • Data Reduction: Factor analysis can simplify a large dataset by reducing the number of variables. This helps make the data easier to manage and analyze.
  • Structure Identification: It can identify underlying structures or patterns in a dataset that are not immediately apparent. This can provide insights into complex relationships between variables.
  • Construct Validation: Factor analysis can be used to validate whether a scale or measure accurately reflects the construct it’s intended to measure. This is important for ensuring the reliability and validity of measurement tools.
  • Hypothesis Generation: By revealing the underlying structure of your variables, factor analysis can help generate hypotheses for future research.
  • Versatility: Factor analysis can be used in various fields, including psychology, market research, healthcare, sociology, finance, education, and environmental studies.

Disadvantages of Factor Analysis

Disadvantages of Factor Analysis are as follows:

  • Subjectivity: The interpretation of the factors can sometimes be subjective, depending on how the data is perceived. Different researchers might interpret the factors differently, which can lead to different conclusions.
  • Assumptions: Factor analysis assumes that there’s some underlying structure in the dataset and that all variables are related. If these assumptions do not hold, factor analysis might not be the best tool for your analysis.
  • Large Sample Size Required: Factor analysis generally requires a large sample size to produce reliable results. This can be a limitation in studies where data collection is challenging or expensive.
  • Correlation, not Causation: Factor analysis identifies correlational relationships, not causal ones. It cannot prove that changes in one variable cause changes in another.
  • Complexity: The statistical concepts behind factor analysis can be difficult to understand and require expertise to implement correctly. Misuse or misunderstanding of the method can lead to incorrect conclusions.

About the author

Muhammad Hassan

Researcher, Academic Writer, Web developer