On the Conventional Definition of Path-specific Effects: Fully Mediated Interaction with Multiple Ordered Mediators

An Shun Tai, Le Hsuan Liao, Sheng Hsuan Lin

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Path-specific effects are a critical measure for assessing mediation in the presence of multiple mediators. However, the conventional definition of path-specific effects has generated controversy because it often causes misinterpretation of the results of multiple mediator analysis. For in-depth analysis of this issue, we propose the concept of decomposing fully mediated interaction from the average causal effect. We show that misclassification of fully mediated interaction is the main cause of misinterpretation of path-specific effects. We propose two strategies for specifying fully mediated interaction: isolating and reclassifying fully mediated interaction. The choice of strategy depends on the objective. Isolating fully mediated interaction is the superior strategy when the main objective is elucidating the mediation mechanism, whereas reclassifying it is superior when the main objective is precisely interpreting the mediation analysis results. To compare performance, this study used the two proposed strategies and the conventional decomposition strategy to analyze the mediating roles of dyspnea and anxiety in the effect of impaired lung function on poor health status in a population of patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. The estimation result showed that the conventional decomposition strategy underestimates the importance of dyspnea as a mechanism of this disease. Specifically, the strategy of reclassifying fully mediated interaction revealed that 50% of the average causal effect is attributable to mediating effects, particularly the mediating effect of dyspnea.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)817-827
Number of pages11
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2022 Nov 1

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Epidemiology


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