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date: 05 March 2021

Mediator Variableslocked

  • Matthew S. FritzMatthew S. FritzDepartment of Educational Psychology, University of Nebraska - Lincoln
  •  and Houston F. LesterHouston F. LesterDepartment of Educational Psychology, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Mediator variables are variables that lie between the cause and effect in a causal chain. In other words, mediator variables are the mechanisms through which change in one variable causes change in a subsequent variable. The single-mediator model is deceptively simple because it has only three variables: an antecedent, a mediator, and a consequent. Determining that a variable functions as a mediator is a difficult process, however, because causation can be inferred only when many strict assumptions are met, including, but not limited to, perfectly reliable measures, correct temporal design, and no omitted confounders. Since many of these assumptions are difficult to assess and rarely met in practice, the significance of a statistical test of mediation alone usually provides only weak evidence of mediation.

New methodological approaches are constantly being developed to circumvent these limitations. Specifically, new methods are being created for the following purposes: (1) to assess the impact of violating assumptions (e.g., sensitivity analyses) and (2) to make fewer assumptions and provide more flexible analysis techniques (e.g., Bayesian analysis or bootstrapping) that may be more robust to assumption violations. Despite these advances, the importance of the design of a study cannot be overstated. A statistical analysis, no matter how sophisticated, cannot redeem a study that measured the wrong variables or used an incorrect temporal design.

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