Statistics and Its Interface

Volume 2 (2009)

Number 4

Conceptual issues concerning mediation, interventions and composition

Pages: 457 – 468

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.4310/SII.2009.v2.n4.a7

Authors

Tyler J. Vanderweele (Departments of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Harvard University, Boston, Mass., U.S.A.)

Stijn Vansteelandt (Department of Applied Mathematics and Computer Sciences, Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium)

Abstract

Concepts concerning mediation in the causal inference literature are reviewed. Notions of direct and indirect effects from a counterfactual approach to mediation are compared with those arising from the standard regression approach to mediation of Baron and Kenny (1986), commonly utilized in the social science literature. It is shown that concepts of direct and indirect effect from causal inference generalize those described by Baron and Kenny and that under appropriate identification assumptions these more general direct and indirect effects from causal inference can be estimated using regression even when there are interactions between the primary exposure of interest and the mediator. A number of conceptual issues are discussed concerning the interpretation of identification conditions for mediation, the notion of counterfactuals based on hypothetical interventions and the so called consistency and composition assumptions.

Keywords

Concepts concerning mediation in the causal inference literature are reviewed. Notions of direct and indirect effects from a counterfactual approach to mediation are compared with those arising from the standard regression approach to mediation of Baron and Kenny (1986), commonly utilized in the social science literature. It is shown that concepts of direct and indirect effect from causal inference generalize those described by Baron and Kenny and that under appropriate identification assumptions these more general direct and indirect effects from causal inference can be estimated using regression even when there are interactions between the primary exposure of interest and the mediator. A number of conceptual issues are discussed concerning the interpretation of identification conditions for mediation, the notion of counterfactuals based on hypothetical interventions and the so called consistency and composition assumptions.

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