Revisiting Mediation in the Social and Behavioral Sciences
The process of mediation is of critical importance to the social and behavioral sciences and to evolutionary social psychology in particular. As with the concept of evolutionary adaptation, however, one can argue that causal mediation is in need of explicit theoretical justification and empirical support. Mainstream evolutionary social psychology proposes, for example, that organisms are “adaptation executers”, and not “fitness maximizers”. The execution of adaptations is triggered by fitness-relevant ecological contingencies at both ultimate and proximate levels of analysis. This logic is essentially equivalent to what methodologists refer to as the process of mediation; the adaptations to be executed (or not, depending upon the prevailing environmental circumstances) causally mediate the effects of the ecological contingencies upon the fitness outcomes. Thus, the process of mediation can be generally conceptualized as a causal chain of events leading to a given outcome or set of outcomes. If a predictor variable operates through an intervening variable to affect a criterion variable, then mediation is said to exist. Nevertheless, it does not appear that some psychologists (particularly evolutionary-social psychologists) are sufficiently well-versed in the fundamental logic and quantitative methodology of establishing causal mediation to support such claims. In the current paper, we set out to review the ways researchers support their use of mediation statements and also propose critical considerations on this front. We start with more conventional methods for testing mediation, discuss variants of the conventional approach, discuss the limitations of such methods as we see them, and end with our preferred mediation approach.
Keywords: Mediation, Indirect Effects, Causal Steps Approach, Cascade Model, Sequential Canonical Analysis