If you have a categorical predictor variable that you plan to use in a regression analysis in SPSS, there are a couple ways to do it.
You can use the SPSS Regression procedure. Or you can use SPSS GLM, which I discuss here and in a follow-up post.
The big question in SPSS GLM is what goes where. As I’ve detailed in another post, any continuous independent variable goes into covariates. And don’t use random factors at all unless you really know what you’re doing.
So the question is what to do with your categorical variables. You have two choices, and each has advantages and disadvantages.
The easiest is to put categorical variables in Fixed Factors. SPSS GLM will dummy code those variables for you, which is quite convenient if your categorical variable has more than two categories.
However, there are some dummy coding defaults you need to be aware of that may or may not make this a good choice.
SPSS GLM always makes the reference group the one that comes last alphabetically.
So if the values you input are strings, it will be the one that comes last. If those values are numbers, it will be the highest one.
(Note: Not all procedures in SPSS use this default so double check the default if you’re using something else. Some procedures let you change it the default, but SPSS GLM doesn’t).
In some studies it really doesn’t matter which is the reference group.
But in others, interpreting regression coefficients will be a whole lot easier if you choose a group that makes a good comparison such as a control group or the most common group in the data.
If you want that to be the reference group in SPSS GLM, make it come last alphabetically. I’ve been known to do things like change my data so that the control group becomes something like ZControl. (But create a new variable–never overwrite original data).
It really can get confusing, though, if the variable was already dummy coded–if it already had values of 0 and 1. Because 1 comes last alphabetically, SPSS GLM will make that group the reference group and internally code it as 0.
This can really lead to confusion when interpreting coefficients. It’s not impossible if you’re paying attention, but you do have to pay attention.