# Mediation analysis interpretation. negative path c but positive and significant paths for a and b

Hello I have a problem interpreting the results of my mediation analysis (Baron and Kenny)

Path a between my IV (X) and M is positive and significant. Path b between my Mediator and DP(Y) is also positive and significant. Path c, the direct path between my IV(X) and DP(Y) is negative and significant.

Now when I add my mediator the relationship between X and Y becomes "more negative". it goes from -0.031 to -0.038 (significant value 0.000)

What does this say about the Mediator?

(I know there are other ways to analyze mediation but I want to wrap my head around this approach)

Thank you!!

This sounds like a suppressor effect. They are often pretty tricky to interpret.

Here's one example, that is similar to yours, except the direct effect switches from positive to negative: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12595384/

This is in medical students, looking at conscientiousness. Basically, before medical school, conscientiousness positively predicts grades.

Towards the end of medical school, the direct effect of conscientiousness is positive, and the indirect effect goes negative.

Before medical school, conscientious students work harder. In medical school all students work as hard as possible. Conscientiousness helps earlier with grades, but that help needs to be removed at the end, because if you're not working as hard as you can, you're not in medical school any more.

• As far as I read, also using this thread:stats.stackexchange.com/questions/73869/… , a coefficient that is being strengthened is indicative of a suppressor effect. In my example the effect grows stronger in amplitude but in an absolute sense: -0.31> -0.38 which is what makes interpreting this case so difficult. Wouldn't it need to grow bigger e.g. from -0.31 to -0.2 in order to be a suppressor effect? Commented Nov 7, 2022 at 19:05
• -0.31 to -0.38 is bigger. Lower does not mean bigger. It is a bigger effect. Commented Nov 7, 2022 at 19:42

I agree with Jeremy that this is suppression, but I don't think they are complicated to interpret as they seem. Suppression in mediation occurs whenever you have two compensatory pathways, which occurs in any system that needs to maintain stability. If the focal predictor causes negative changes in the outcome, a stability-maintaining system would involve a compensatory pathway that increases the outcome in response to changes in the predictor.

Take for example the effect of exercise on weight. Exercising burns calories, which increases one's appetite and makes one eat more, and eating more causes weight gain. But as we know, exercising also causes weight loss through the burning of calories directly. There is a compensatory pathway: your body responds to increased burning of calories due to exercise by increasing your appetite to offset the changes in weight, thereby maintaining stability. To lose weight, the direct effect of burning calories on weight must be greater (in the negative direction) than the indirect effect through amount of food eaten, or you need to hold constant the amount of food eaten. This is why one needs to control their diet in addition to exercising if they want to lose weight; otherwise their increased appetite will maintain their current weight (or at least slow the weight loss).

Here, the situation is nearly identical to yours. Exercise (X) is positively related to food eaten (M) (A path), and food eaten is positively related to weight (Y) (B path). But exercise (X) has a direct negative effect on weight, holding constant food eaten (C' path). In total, exercise has a weak negative total effect on weight (C path), but holding constant food eaten, the direct effect of exercise on weight is pronounced.