Mediator versus Moderator variables

The classic reference on this topic is Baron, R. M., & Kenny, D. A. (1986). The moderator-mediator variable distinction in social psychological research: Conceptual, strategic, and statistical considerations. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 51, 1173-1182.

Most of what is written here comes directly from this classic paper.

     The general test for mediation is to examine the relation between the predictor and the criterion variables, the relation between the predictor and the mediator variables, and the relation between the mediator and criterion variables. All of these correlations should be significant. The relation between predictor and criterion should be reduced (to zero in the case of total mediation) after controlling the relation between the mediator and criterion variables.

      Another way to think about this issue is that a moderator variable is one that influences the strength of a relationship between two other variables, and a mediator variable is one that explains the relationship between the two other variables. As an example, let's consider the relation between social class (SES) and frequency of breast self-exams (BSE). Age might be a moderator variable, in that the relation between SES and BSE could be stronger for older women and less strong or nonexistent for younger women. Education might be a mediator variable in that it explains why there is a relation between SES and BSE. When you remove the effect of education, the relation between SES and BSE disappears.


LINKS



Return to the Statistics Page

Last updated 1 March 1999