The Search for Causal Inferences: Using Propensity Scores Post Hoc to Reduce Estimation Error With Nonexperimental Research


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Abstract

While experimental designs are regarded as the gold standard for establishing causal relationships, such designs are usually impractical owing to common methodological limitations. The objective of this article is to illustrate how propensity score matching (PSM) and using propensity scores (PS) as a covariate are viable alternatives to reduce estimation error when experimental designs cannot be implemented. To mimic common pediatric research practices, data from 140 simulated participants were used to resemble an experimental and nonexperimental design that assessed the effect of treatment status on participant weight loss for diabetes. Pretreatment participant characteristics (age, gender, physical activity, etc.) were then used to generate PS for use in the various statistical approaches. Results demonstrate how PSM and using the PS as a covariate can be used to reduce estimation error and improve statistical inferences. References for issues related to the implementation of these procedures are provided to assist researchers.

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