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Estimating causal direct and indirect effects in the presence of post-treatment confounders: a simulation study

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In investigating mediating processes, researchers usually use randomized experiments and linear regression or structural equation modeling to determine if the treatment affects the hypothesized mediator and if the mediator affects

In investigating mediating processes, researchers usually use randomized experiments and linear regression or structural equation modeling to determine if the treatment affects the hypothesized mediator and if the mediator affects the targeted outcome. However, randomizing the treatment will not yield accurate causal path estimates unless certain assumptions are satisfied. Since randomization of the mediator may not be plausible for most studies (i.e., the mediator status is not randomly assigned, but self-selected by participants), both the direct and indirect effects may be biased by confounding variables. The purpose of this dissertation is (1) to investigate the extent to which traditional mediation methods are affected by confounding variables and (2) to assess the statistical performance of several modern methods to address confounding variable effects in mediation analysis. This dissertation first reviewed the theoretical foundations of causal inference in statistical mediation analysis, modern statistical analysis for causal inference, and then described different methods to estimate causal direct and indirect effects in the presence of two post-treatment confounders. A large simulation study was designed to evaluate the extent to which ordinary regression and modern causal inference methods are able to obtain correct estimates of the direct and indirect effects when confounding variables that are present in the population are not included in the analysis. Five methods were compared in terms of bias, relative bias, mean square error, statistical power, Type I error rates, and confidence interval coverage to test how robust the methods are to the violation of the no unmeasured confounders assumption and confounder effect sizes. The methods explored were linear regression with adjustment, inverse propensity weighting, inverse propensity weighting with truncated weights, sequential g-estimation, and a doubly robust sequential g-estimation. Results showed that in estimating the direct and indirect effects, in general, sequential g-estimation performed the best in terms of bias, Type I error rates, power, and coverage across different confounder effect, direct effect, and sample sizes when all confounders were included in the estimation. When one of the two confounders were omitted from the estimation process, in general, none of the methods had acceptable relative bias in the simulation study. Omitting one of the confounders from estimation corresponded to the common case in mediation studies where no measure of a confounder is available but a confounder may affect the analysis. Failing to measure potential post-treatment confounder variables in a mediation model leads to biased estimates regardless of the analysis method used and emphasizes the importance of sensitivity analysis for causal mediation analysis.

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  • 2013

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Handling sparse and missing data in functional data analysis: a functional mixed-effects model approach

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This paper investigates a relatively new analysis method for longitudinal data in the framework of functional data analysis. This approach treats longitudinal data as so-called sparse functional data. The first

This paper investigates a relatively new analysis method for longitudinal data in the framework of functional data analysis. This approach treats longitudinal data as so-called sparse functional data. The first section of the paper introduces functional data and the general ideas of functional data analysis. The second section discusses the analysis of longitudinal data in the context of functional data analysis, while considering the unique characteristics of longitudinal data such, in particular sparseness and missing data. The third section introduces functional mixed-effects models that can handle these unique characteristics of sparseness and missingness. The next section discusses a preliminary simulation study conducted to examine the performance of a functional mixed-effects model under various conditions. An extended simulation study was carried out to evaluate the estimation accuracy of a functional mixed-effects model. Specifically, the accuracy of the estimated trajectories was examined under various conditions including different types of missing data and varying levels of sparseness.

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  • 2016

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Testing the mediated effect in the pretest-posttest control group design

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Methods to test hypotheses of mediated effects in the pretest-posttest control group design are understudied in the behavioral sciences (MacKinnon, 2008). Because many studies aim to answer questions about

Methods to test hypotheses of mediated effects in the pretest-posttest control group design are understudied in the behavioral sciences (MacKinnon, 2008). Because many studies aim to answer questions about mediating processes in the pretest-posttest control group design, there is a need to determine which model is most appropriate to test hypotheses about mediating processes and what happens to estimates of the mediated effect when model assumptions are violated in this design. The goal of this project was to outline estimator characteristics of four longitudinal mediation models and the cross-sectional mediation model. Models were compared on type 1 error rates, statistical power, accuracy of confidence interval coverage, and bias of parameter estimates. Four traditional longitudinal models and the cross-sectional model were assessed. The four longitudinal models were analysis of covariance (ANCOVA) using pretest scores as a covariate, path analysis, difference scores, and residualized change scores. A Monte Carlo simulation study was conducted to evaluate the different models across a wide range of sample sizes and effect sizes. All models performed well in terms of type 1 error rates and the ANCOVA and path analysis models performed best in terms of bias and empirical power. The difference score, residualized change score, and cross-sectional models all performed well given certain conditions held about the pretest measures. These conditions and future directions are discussed.

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  • 2015