Summary and Keywords
Moderation occurs when the magnitude and/or direction of the relation between two variables depend on the value of a third variable called a moderator variable. Moderator variables are distinct from mediator variables, which are intermediate variables in a causal chain between two other variables, and confounder variables, which can cause two otherwise unrelated variables to be related. Determining whether a variable is a moderator of the relation between two other variables requires statistically testing an interaction term. When the interaction term contains two categorical variables, analysis of variance (ANOVA) or multiple regression may be used, though ANOVA is usually preferred. When the interaction term contains one or more continuous variables, multiple regression is used. Multiple moderators may be operating simultaneously, in which case higher-order interaction terms can be added to the model, though these higher-order terms may be challenging to probe and interpret. In addition, interaction effects are often small in size, meaning most studies may have inadequate statistical power to detect these effects.
When multilevel models are used to account for the nesting of individuals within clusters, moderation can be examined at the individual level, the cluster level, or across levels in what is termed a cross-level interaction. Within the structural equation modeling (SEM) framework, multiple group analyses are often used to test for moderation. Moderation in the context of mediation can be examined using a conditional process model, while moderation of the measurement of a latent variable can be examined by testing for factorial invariance. Challenges faced when testing for moderation include the need to test for treatment by demographic or context interactions, the need to account for excessive multicollinearity, and the need for care when testing models with multiple higher-order interactions terms.
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