The Consequences of Model Misspecification for the Estimation of Nonlinear Interaction Effects


Recent research has shown that interaction effects may often be nonlinear (Hainmueller, Mummolo, and Xu [2019, Political Analysis 27, 163–192]). As standard interaction effect specifications assume a linear interaction effect, that is, the moderator conditions the effect at a constant rate, this can lead to bias. However, allowing nonlinear interaction effects, without accounting for other nonlinearities and nonlinear interaction effects, can also lead to biased estimates. Specifically, researchers can infer nonlinear interaction effects, even though the true interaction effect is linear, when variables used for covariate adjustment that are correlated with the moderator have a nonlinear effect upon the outcome of interest. We illustrate this bias with simulations and show how diagnostic tools recommended in the literature are unable to uncover the issue. We show how using the adaptive Lasso to identify relevant nonlinearities among variables used for covariate adjustment can avoid this issue. Moreover, the use of regularized estimators, which allow for a fuller set of nonlinearities, both independent and interactive, is more generally shown to avoid this bias and more general forms of omitted interaction bias.

Political Analysis 31(2)
Liam F. Beiser-McGrath
Liam F. Beiser-McGrath
Assistant Professor in International Social and Public Policy