The MIMIC model and formative variables: problems and solutions

Nick Lee, John W. Cadogan, Laura Chamberlain

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The use of the multiple indicators, multiple causes model to operationalize formative variables (the formative MIMIC model) is advocated in the methodological literature. Yet, contrary to popular belief, the formative MIMIC model does not provide a valid method of integrating formative variables into empirical studies and we recommend discarding it from formative models. Our arguments rest on the following observations. First, much formative variable literature appears to conceptualize a causal structure between the formative variable and its indicators which can be tested or estimated. We demonstrate that this assumption is illogical, that a formative variable is simply a researcher-defined composite of sub-dimensions, and that such tests and estimates are unnecessary. Second, despite this, researchers often use the formative MIMIC model as a means to include formative variables in their models and to estimate the magnitude of linkages between formative variables and their indicators. However, the formative MIMIC model cannot provide this information since it is simply a model in which a common factor is predicted by some exogenous variables—the model does not integrate within it a formative variable. Empirical results from such studies need reassessing, since their interpretation may lead to inaccurate theoretical insights and the development of untested recommendations to managers. Finally, the use of the formative MIMIC model can foster fuzzy conceptualizations of variables, particularly since it can erroneously encourage the view that a single focal variable is measured with formative and reflective indicators. We explain these interlinked arguments in more detail and provide a set of recommendations for researchers to consider when dealing with formative variables.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3-17
Number of pages15
JournalAMS Review
Issue number1
Early online date24 Jan 2013
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2013


  • formative variables
  • measurement
  • composites
  • indicators
  • theory
  • causality
  • ontology
  • philosophy


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