Summary and Keywords
Lifespan developmental research studies how individuals change throughout their lifetime and how intraindividual or interindividual change leads to future outcomes. Lifespan researchers are interested in how developmental processes unfold and how specific developmental pathways lead to an outcome. Developmental processes have been previously studied using developmental cascade models, concepts of equifinality and multifinality, and developmental interventions. Statistical mediation analysis also provides a framework for studying developmental processes and developmental pathways by identifying intermediate variables, known as mediators, that transmit the effect between early exposures and future outcomes. The role of statistical mediation in lifespan developmental research is either to explain how the developmental process unfolds, or to identify mediators that researchers can target in interventions so that individuals change developmental pathways. The statistical mediation model is inherently causal, so the relations between the exposures, mediators, and outcomes have to be correctly specified, and ruling out alternative explanations for the relations is of upmost importance.
The statistical mediation model can be extended to deal with longitudinal data. For example, the autoregressive mediation model can represent change through time by examining lagged relations in multiwave datasets. On the other hand, the multilevel mediation model can deal with the clustering of repeated measures within individuals to study intraindividual and interindividual change. Finally, the latent growth curve mediation model can represent the variability of linear and nonlinear trajectories for individuals in the variables in the mediation model through time. As a result, developmental researchers have access to a range of models that could describe the theory of change they want to study. Researchers are encouraged to consider mechanisms of change and to formulate mediation hypotheses about lifespan development.
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