Applying Causal Mediation Analysis to Personality Disorder Research

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Abstract

This article is designed to address fundamental issues in the application of causal mediation analysis to research on personality disorders. Causal mediation analysis is used to identify mechanisms of effect by testing variables as putative links between the independent and dependent variables. As such, it would appear to have relevance to personality disorder research. It is argued that proper implementation of causal mediation analysis requires that investigators take several factors into account. These factors are discussed under 5 headings: variable selection, model specification, significance evaluation, effect size estimation, and sensitivity testing. First, care must be taken when selecting the independent, dependent, mediator, and control variables for a mediation analysis. Some variables make better mediators than others and all variables should be based on reasonably reliable indicators. Second, the mediation model needs to be properly specified. This requires that the data for the analysis be prospectively or historically ordered and possess proper causal direction. Third, it is imperative that the significance of the identified pathways be established, preferably with a nonparametric bootstrap resampling approach. Fourth, effect size estimates should be computed or competing pathways compared. Finally, investigators employing the mediation method are advised to perform a sensitivity analysis. Additional topics covered in this article include parallel and serial multiple mediation designs, moderation, and the relationship between mediation and moderation.

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