Stability analysis of clustering of Norris' visual analogue scale: Applying the consensus clustering approach.

Guan Z, Chen XG, Hay J, van Gerven J, Burggraaf J, de Kam M

Visual analogue scales are widely used to measure subjective responses. Norris' 16 visual analogue scales (N_VAS) measure subjective feelings of alertness and mood. Up to now, different scientists have clustered items of N_VAS into different ways and Bond and Lader's way has been the most frequently used in clinical research. However, there are concerns about the stability of this clustering over different subject samples and different drug classes. The aim of this study was to test whether Bond and Lader's clustering was stable in terms of subject samples and drug effects. Alternative clustering of N_VAS was tested.Data from studies with 3 types of drugs: cannabinoid receptor agonist (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol [THC]), muscarinic antagonist (scopolamine), and benzodiazepines (midazolam and lorazepam), collected between 2005 and 2012, were used for this analysis. Exploratory factor analysis (EFA) was used to test the clustering algorithm of Bond and Lader. Consensus clustering was performed to test the stability of clustering results over samples and over different drug types. Stability analysis was performed using a three-cluster assumption, and then on other alternative assumptions.Heat maps of the consensus matrix (CM) and density plots showed instability of the three-cluster hypothesis and suggested instability over the 3 drug classes. Two- and four-cluster hypothesis were also tested. Heat maps of the CM and density plots suggested that the two-cluster assumption was superior.In summary, the two-cluster assumption leads to a provably stable outcome over samples and the 3 drug types based on the data used.