The analysis of count data: A gentle introduction to poisson regression and its alternatives

Stefany Coxe, Stephen West, Leona S. Aiken

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

662 Scopus citations


Count data reflect the number of occurrences of a behavior in a fixed period of time (e.g., number of aggressive acts by children during a playground period). In cases in which the outcome variable is a count with a low arithmetic mean (typically < 10), standard ordinary least squares regression may produce biased results. We provide an introduction to regression models that provide appropriate analyses for count data. We introduce standard Poisson regression with an example and discuss its interpretation. Two variants of Poisson regression, overdispersed Poisson regression and negative binomial regression, are introduced that may provide more optimal results when a key assumption of standard Poisson regression is violated. We also discuss the problems of excess zeros in which a subgroup of respondents who would never display the behavior are included in the sample and truncated zeros in which respondents who have a zero count are excluded by the sampling plan. We provide computer syntax for our illustrations in SAS and SPSS. The Poisson family of regression models provides improved and now easy to implement analyses of count data. [Supplementary materials are available for this article. Go to the publisher's online edition of Journal of Personality Assessment for the following free supplemental resources: the data set used to illustrate Poisson regression in this article, which is available in three formats - a text file, an SPSS database, or a SAS database.]

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)121-136
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Personality Assessment
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2009

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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