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Title: Fitting structural equation models via variational approximations Authors:  Khue-Dung Dang - University of Melbourne (Australia) [presenting]
Luca Maestrini - The Australian National University (Australia)
Abstract: Structural equation models are commonly used to capture the relationship between sets of observed and unobservable variables. Traditionally these models are fitted using frequentist approaches, but recently, researchers and practitioners have developed an increasing interest in Bayesian inference. In Bayesian settings, inference for these models is typically performed via Markov chain Monte Carlo methods, which may be computationally intensive for models with a large number of manifest variables or complex structures. Variational approximations can be a fast alternative; however, they have not been adequately explored for this class of models. We develop a mean field variational Bayes approach for fitting elemental structural equation models and demonstrate how bootstrap can considerably improve the variational approximation quality. We show that this variational approximation method can provide reliable inference while being significantly faster than Markov chain Monte Carlo methods.