Structural Equation Modeling

Structural Equation Modeling

Structural equation modeling (SEM) is a statistical technique for testing and estimating causal relations using a combination of statistical data and qualitative causal assumptions. This definition of SEM was articulated by the geneticist Sewall Wright (1921), the economist Trygve Haavelmo (1943) and the cognitive scientist Herbert A. Simon (1953), and formally defined by Judea Pearl (2000) using a calculus of counterfactuals.

Structural Equation Models (SEM) allow both confirmatory and exploratory modeling, meaning they are suited to both theory testing and theory development. Confirmatory modeling usually starts out with a hypothesis that gets represented in a causal model. The concepts used in the model must then be operationalized to allow testing of the relationships between the concepts in the model. The model is tested against the obtained measurement data to determine how well the model fits the data. The causal assumptions embedded in the model often have falsifiable implications which can be tested against the data.

With an initial theory SEM can be used inductively by specifying a corresponding model and using data to estimate the values of free parameters. Often the initial hypothesis requires adjustment in light of model evidence. When SEM is used purely for exploration, this is usually in the context of exploratory factor analysis as in psychometric design.

Among the strengths of SEM is the ability to construct latent variables: variables which are not measured directly, but are estimated in the model from several measured variables each of which is predicted to 'tap into' the latent variables. This allows the modeler to explicitly capture the unreliability of measurement in the model, which in theory allows the structural relations between latent variables to be accurately estimated. Factor analysis, path analysis and regression all represent special cases of SEM.

In SEM, the qualitative causal assumptions are represented by the missing variables in each equation, as well as vanishing covariances among some error terms. These assumptions are testable in experimental studies and must be confirmed judgmentally in observational studies.

Read more about Structural Equation Modeling:  Advanced Uses

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