This paper introduces a meta-analytic mediation analysis approach for individual participant data (IPD) from multiple studies. Mediation analysis evaluates whether the effectiveness of an intervention on health outcomes occurs because of change in a key behavior targeted by the intervention. However, individual trials are often statistically underpowered to test mediation hypotheses. Existing approaches for evaluating mediation in the meta-analytic context are limited by their reliance on aggregate data; thus, findings may be confounded with study-level differences unrelated to the pathway of interest. To overcome the limitations of existing meta-analytic mediation approaches, we used a one-stage estimation approach using structural equation modeling (SEM) to combine IPD from multiple studies for mediation analysis. This approach (1) accounts for the clustering of participants within studies, (2) accommodates missing data via multiple imputation, and (3) allows valid inferences about the indirect (i.e., mediated) effects via bootstrapped confidence intervals. We used data (N = 3691 from 10 studies) from Project INTEGRATE (Mun et al. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 29, 34–48, 2015) to illustrate the SEM approach to meta-analytic mediation analysis by testing whether improvements in the use of protective behavioral strategies mediate the effectiveness of brief motivational interventions for alcohol-related problems among college students. To facilitate the application of the methodology, we provide annotated computer code in R and data for replication. At a substantive level, stand-alone personalized feedback interventions reduced alcohol-related problems via greater use of protective behavioral strategies; however, the net-mediated effect across strategies was small in size, on average.
- Bootstrap inference with multiple imputation
- Brief alcohol intervention
- Complex synthesis
- Indirect effect
- Integrative data analysis