The causal mediation formula--a guide to the assessment of pathways and mechanisms

Prev Sci. 2012 Aug;13(4):426-36. doi: 10.1007/s11121-011-0270-1.


Recent advances in causal inference have given rise to a general and easy-to-use formula for assessing the extent to which the effect of one variable on another is mediated by a third. This Mediation Formula is applicable to nonlinear models with both discrete and continuous variables, and permits the evaluation of path-specific effects with minimal assumptions regarding the data-generating process. We demonstrate the use of the Mediation Formula in simple examples and illustrate why parametric methods of analysis yield distorted results, even when parameters are known precisely. We stress the importance of distinguishing between the necessary and sufficient interpretations of "mediated-effect" and show how to estimate the two components in nonlinear systems with continuous and categorical variables.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Causality*
  • Humans
  • Linear Models
  • Nonlinear Dynamics
  • Regression Analysis