Assessing the Robustness of Mediation Analysis Results Using Multiverse Analysis

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Abstract

There is an increasing awareness that replication should become common practice in empirical studies. However, study results might fail to replicate for various reasons. The robustness of published study results can be assessed using the relatively new multiverse-analysis methodology, in which the robustness of the effect estimates against data analytical decisions is assessed. However, the uptake of multiverse analysis in empirical studies remains low, which might be due to the scarcity of guidance available on performing multiverse analysis. Researchers might experience difficulties in identifying data analytical decisions and in summarizing the large number of effect estimates yielded by a multiverse analysis. These difficulties are amplified when applying multiverse analysis to assess the robustness of the effect estimates from a mediation analysis, as a mediation analysis involves more data analytical decisions than a bivariate analysis. The aim of this paper is to provide an overview and worked example of the use of multiverse analysis to assess the robustness of the effect estimates from a mediation analysis. We showed that the number of data analytical decisions in a mediation analysis is larger than in a bivariate analysis. By using a real-life data example from the Longitudinal Aging Study Amsterdam, we demonstrated the application of multiverse analysis to a mediation analysis. This included the use of specification curves to determine the impact of data analytical decisions on the magnitude and statistical significance of the direct, indirect, and total effect estimates. Although the multiverse analysis methodology is still relatively new and future research is needed to further advance this methodology, this paper shows that multiverse analysis is a useful method for the assessment of the robustness of the direct, indirect, and total effect estimates in a mediation analysis and thereby to inform replication studies.
Original languageEnglish
JournalPrevention Science
Early online date2021
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 2021

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