ANOCE: Analysis of Causal Effects with Multiple Mediators via Constrained Structural Learning

Hengrui Cai · Rui Song · Wenbin Lu

Keywords: [ Structure learning ] [ Individual mediation effects ] [ COVID-19 ] [ Constrained optimization ] [ Causal network ]


In the era of causal revolution, identifying the causal effect of an exposure on the outcome of interest is an important problem in many areas, such as epidemics, medicine, genetics, and economics. Under a general causal graph, the exposure may have a direct effect on the outcome and also an indirect effect regulated by a set of mediators. An analysis of causal effects that interprets the causal mechanism contributed through mediators is hence challenging but on demand. To the best of our knowledge, there are no feasible algorithms that give an exact decomposition of the indirect effect on the level of individual mediators, due to common interaction among mediators in the complex graph. In this paper, we establish a new statistical framework to comprehensively characterize causal effects with multiple mediators, namely, ANalysis Of Causal Effects (ANOCE), with a newly introduced definition of the mediator effect, under the linear structure equation model. We further propose a constrained causal structure learning method by incorporating a novel identification constraint that specifies the temporal causal relationship of variables. The proposed algorithm is applied to investigate the causal effects of 2020 Hubei lockdowns on reducing the spread of the coronavirus in Chinese major cities out of Hubei.

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