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Unintended Causal Pathways: Probing Experimental Mechanisms Through Mediation Analysis

45 Pages Posted: 7 May 2017 Last revised: 10 May 2017

R Joseph Huddleston

University of Southern California, Department of Political Science, Students

Nicholas Weller

University of California, Riverside (UCR)

Date Written: May 6, 2017

Abstract

We present the results of several experimental studies relevant to the general study of causal mechanisms, the specific study of audience costs, and the larger body of survey experiments. First, we show that in the context of audience cost experiments, a portion of the estimated treatment effect is related to the intended causal mechanism, national reputation, but this mechanism underlies a relatively small portion of the total causal effect, leaving much of the causal effect unexplained. Second, we show that the experimental treatment manipulates an unintended mechanism that also underlies part of the treatment effect. We conduct two tests to establish the relative independence of each mediator’s effect. Finally, we investigate the possibility that our findings represent question order effects rather than mediation effects, finding that priming does not substantially threaten our results. Our results and discussion advance our understanding of the challenge of studying causal mediation in survey experiments. We provide some recommendations for survey experimentation moving forward.

Keywords: survey experiments, audience costs, causal mechanisms, mediation analysis, experimental design, public opinion, foreign policy

JEL Classification: F5, F51, C90

Suggested Citation

Huddleston, R Joseph and Weller, Nicholas, Unintended Causal Pathways: Probing Experimental Mechanisms Through Mediation Analysis (May 6, 2017). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2964336

R Joseph Huddleston (Contact Author)

University of Southern California, Department of Political Science, Students ( email )

Los Angeles, CA
United States

Nicholas Weller

University of California, Riverside (UCR) ( email )

900 University Avenue
Riverside, CA 92521
United States

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