Issue: November 2013
eNews from The Methodology Center
How to use propensity scores for causal inference

Researchers would often like to draw causal inferences from observational data; however, confounders, variables related to both the predictors and the outcome, typically undermine the validity of these inferences. In a recent article in American Journal of Community Psychology, Methodology Center Scientific Director Stephanie Lanza and her collaborators demonstrate propensity scores as a straightforward method for drawing causal inferences from observational data. As an empirical demonstration, the authors estimate the causal effect of Head Start versus parental care on later reading development.


Appendices to this article contain all the SAS code needed to use propensity scores in your research.


Read more.

A postdoctoral fellowship will be available in the Prevention and Methodology Training (PAMT) program starting in summer 2014. PAMT, a joint effort between Penn State's Prevention Research Center and Methodology Center, cross-trains postdoctoral researchers as prevention scientists and methodologists. Through the program, prevention researchers become comfortable with the latest and most innovative research methods, and methodologists gain an understanding of the realities and challenges facing prevention efforts in real-world settings.


Postdocs work closely with their mentors to develop their own lines of research. PAMT is a great way to launch a research career. If you are interested or if you know a researcher with strong methodological skills and a passion for prevention science, take a moment to review the application requirements.


Application review begins December 13, 2013.


Read more about PAMT.

Sara Vasilenko

Three years ago, as Methodology Center Research Associate Sara Vasilenko was finishing her Ph.D. in Human Development and Family Studies at Penn State, she knew she wanted to explore and expand the methods available for researching sexual risk behavior; she just didn't know how to pursue her goal. Fortunately, the perfect place for that work was right under her nose in the Prevention and Methodology Training (PAMT) program, a joint training program between The Methodology Center and The Prevention Research Center.


In PAMT, Sara was introduced to Runze Li's work on time-varying effect models (TVEMs). Sara's graduate work had focused on the mental health outcomes of sexual behavior among youth and young adults, and TVEM broadened her horizons. "When I started using TVEM, I realized I could address questions I couldn't previously answer," Sara said. "Past research has shown that adolescent transitions to sexual behavior at young ages are associated with depression. My dissertation work showed that transitioning to sexual behavior among female college students was associated with healthy psychological states. So, somewhere in the developmental process, the impact of sexual behavior changes. TVEM is allowing me to examine how the associations between sexual behaviors and other problems change over time so that we can understand when this these behaviors are healthy and when they may be more problematic."


Read about how PAMT helped Sara launch her research career.

Featured Article: Will quitting smokers lapse?

In an article in a forthcoming special issue of Nicotine and Tobacco Research, a team of Methodology Center scientists examines the changing relationships between factors that predict relapse for smokers who are quitting. The researchers, led by Research Associate Sara Vasilenko, used time-varying effect models to analyze ecological momentary assessment data and found that predictors of relapse changed over the two weeks postquit. Cigarette cravings significantly predicted relapse throughout the two weeks. However, baseline dependence was significant early in the quit process but was unimportant after one week. Conversely, negative mood became a stronger predictor of relapse as time progressed.  


Read more.
New Methodology Center Annual Report Online

The Methodology Center's 2013-14 annual report is now available online. The report provides context for our work and an overview of our research. It includes a letter from our director, summaries of our largest research projects and recent grants, and a review of our productivity during the last year. Read about the research that won Methodology Center Principal Investigator Susan Murphy a MacArthur "Genius" Award or read about our collaborations to develop methods for a broad range of health problems.


The publication is also available in print. Please email for a hard copy.


Open the annual report


Interested in propensity scores for causal inference? We are currently testing a SAS macro that works with R to estimate propensity scores for causal interference. It will be available in the next few months. Stay tuned!  


Questions? Email 


Read more about propensity scores.



Stephanie Lanza Who: Stephanie Lanza 

What: Statistical Horizons Two-Day Seminar

Where: Philadelphia, PA

When: December 6-7, 2013

Register now


Who: Linda Collins 

What: Pre-Congress workshop on the multiphase optimization strategy 

Where: International Research Congress on Integrative Medicine and Health in Miami, FL

When: May 13, 2014

Register now  


Who: Linda Collins 

What: Seminar on the multiphase optimization strategy (MOST) 

Where: Society of Behavioral Medicine, 35th Annual Meeting in Philadelphia, PA

When: April 23, 2014

Register now  


Who: Daniel Almirall 

What: Seminar on the sequential, multiple assignment, randomized trial (SMART) 

Where: Society of Behavioral Medicine, 35th Annual Meeting in Philadelphia, PA

When: April 23, 2014

Register now  


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