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In my experience these two terms frequently confuse students.

For teaching purposes I am looking for some way to help students distinguish between them. One way might be to show that the statistical concepts map onto the terms in a way that matches their everyday meaning. Another way might be to suggest a mnemonic to students.

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    $\begingroup$ mediator conveys, carries over, transports. moderator shapes, fashions, interferes. See the first paragraph here. $\endgroup$ – ttnphns Mar 11 '15 at 12:31
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    $\begingroup$ Not the answer sought, but many branches of statistical science avoid both terms completely. $\endgroup$ – Nick Cox Mar 11 '15 at 12:35
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    $\begingroup$ Came to say much the same thing as Nick Cox; if you refer to them by terms that don't sound so similar, you'll have less difficulty, and in many areas, the terms you mention are not used. If you start by referring to moderation as 'interaction' it's much harder to confuse the two, whether you call the second thing mediation or not. $\endgroup$ – Glen_b Mar 11 '15 at 14:03
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Of course your students should understand the concept, and examples are in order. But a few mnemonics might still be useful. Even though I've done mediation and moderation analyses, I use my mnemonics when I didn't work with the concepts in a while. Your students might encounter them even less once your class is over. And avoiding the terms altogether when they are in use in many fields doesn't seem like a useful solution either. I think I would draw the two models and say something along the lines of

  • The moderator modifies a relationship between two variables
  • Mediator: medium = in the middle, a middleman doesn't modify a message, just transports it. A medium (as a psychic intermediary) conveys a message from the dead, but just acts as a proxy. Even though that explanation is not perfectly accurate, it reminds me of the drawn models and then I remember the concepts. To drive home the point it could be useful to draw X -> M -> Y first before drawing the model that includes also the direct path X -> Y
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