Assumptions Not Often Assessed or Satisfied in Published Mediation Analyses in Psychology and Psychiatry

Elizabeth A. Stuart, Ian Schmid, Trang Nguyen, Elizabeth Sarker, Adam Pittman, Kelly Benke, Kara Rudolph, Elena Badillo-Goicoechea, Jeannie Marie Leoutsakos

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Mediation analysis aims to investigate the mechanisms of action behind the effects of interventions or treatments. Given the history and common use of mediation in mental health research, we conducted this review to understand how mediation analysis is implemented in psychology and psychiatry and whether analyses adhere to, address, or justify the key underlying assumptions of their approaches. All articles (n = 206) were from top academic psychiatry or psychology journals in the PsycInfo database and were published in English from 2013 to 2018. Information extracted from each article related to study design, covariates adjusted for in the analysis, temporal ordering of variables, and the specific method used to perform the mediation analysis. In most studies, underlying assumptions were not adhered to. Only approximately 20% of articles had full temporal ordering of exposure, mediator, and outcome. Confounding of the exposure-mediator and/or mediator-outcome relationships was controlled for in fewer than half of the studies. In almost none of the articles were the underlying assumptions of their approaches discussed or causal mediation methods used. These results provide insights to how methodologists should aim to communicate methods, and motivation for more outreach to the research community on best practices for mediation analysis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)48-52
Number of pages5
JournalEpidemiologic reviews
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2021


  • Causal inference
  • mental health
  • statistical methods

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Epidemiology


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