Donna Coffman, Ph.D. | The Methodology Center

Donna Coffman, Ph.D.

Donna Coffman, Ph.D.Research Associate Professor, College of Health and Human Development

Principal Investigator, The Methodology Center


The Methodology Center

The Pennsylvania State University

400 Calder Square II

State College, PA 16801




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Ph.D., University of North Carolina, 2005 (Quantitative Psychology)

M.A., James Madison University, 2001 (Psychological Sciences)

B.S., James Madison University, 1999 (Psychology) 

Current Projects and Collaborators

I am currently developing and applying methods for analyzing data from biosensors, ecological momentary assessments, and genomics. My aim is to identify momentary risk states for physical inactivity and stress. On this project, I am working with Runze Li, Vasant Honovar, Joshua Smyth, and Noelle Leonard. I collaborate with Debashis Ghosh on extending statistical learning/data mining methods to estimate propensity scores in the mediation context. Debashis and I also collaborate on a project using the least absolute shrinkage and selection operator (LASSO) for variable selection in propensity score modeling. I collaborate with Stephanie Lanza, Bethany Bray, and John Dziak on a project to extend causal inference methods to latent variable exposures and outcomes. I collaborate with Kari Kugler and Megan Schuler on projects to estimate multi-level propensity scores. Finally, I collaborate with Angela Henneberger on using propensity score models to model peer influence and selection effects in social networks.

Research Interests

My research is primarily in the area of statistical methodology, especially in the integration of statistical methodology and behavioral science. My specific methodological interests are in developing methods for strengthening causal inferences from observational data and in mediation analysis, including innovative applications of these methods. More recently, I have begun to focus on advancing and applying statistical learning methods for large, complex data to address cutting-edge research questions in the behavioral health sciences.


Selected Grants and Awards


Center for Prevention and Treatment Methodology (The Methodology Center)

National Institute on Drug Abuse: P50DA010075

1/1/08 - present; Role: Co-Investigator (PI: Linda Collins)


HealthWise Dissemination: Translation to Multiple Schools

National Institute on Drug Abuse: R01 DA029084

12/1/2010-present; Role: Co-Investigator (PI: Linda Caldwell)


Mexican Children of Immigrants Program

National Institute of Child Health and Human Development: 1P01HD62498-01A1

4/1/11-present; Role- Co-Investigator (PI: Nancy Landale)


Geisinger Rural Aging Study

U.S. Department of Agriculture: 1950-51530-010-OOD

7/3/2009-present; Role: Co-Investigator (Subcontract PI: Gordon Jensen)



Marginal Causal Models for Observational Studies in Obesity Research

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: R21DK082858

7/1/09 - 6/30/12; Role: Co-Investigator (7/30/09-6/30/11 PI: Joseph Schafer); PI  (7/1/11-6/30/2012)


Selected Courses Taught

Causal Inference in the Social Sciences (Graduate)

Mediation Analysis in the Social Sciences (Graduate)

Psychological Statistics (Undergraduate)


Selected Peer-Reviewed Articles

Coffman, D. L., Melde, C., & Esbensen, F. - A. (in press). Gang membership and substance use: Guilt as a gendered vausal pathway. Journal of Experimental Criminology.

Conroy, D. E., Ram, N., Pincus, A. L., Coffman, D. L., Lorek, A. E., Rebar, A. L., & Roche, M. J. (in press). Daily physical activity and alcohol use across the adult lifespan. Health Psychology.

Jones, J., Hartman, T. J., Klifa, C. S., Coffman, D. L., Mitchell, D. C., Vernarelli, J. A., Snetselaar, L. G., Van Horn, L., Stevens, V. J., Robson, A. M., Himes, J. H., Shepherd, J. A., & Dorgan, J. F. (in press). Dietary energy density is positively associated with breast density among young women. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Van Hook, J., Bachmeier, J. D., Coffman, D. L., & Harel, O. (in press). Can we spin straw into gold? An evaluation of immigrant legal status imputation approaches. Demography.

Zhu, Y., Coffman, D. L., & Ghosh, D. (in press). A boosting algorithm for estimating generalized propensity scores with continuous treatments. Journal of Causal Inference.

Butera, N. M., Lanza, S. T., & Coffman, D. L. (2014). A framework for estimating causal effects in latent class analysis: Is there a causal link between early sex and subsequent profiles of delinquency? Prevention Science, 15(3), 397-407. doi: 10.1007/s11121-013-0417-3 PMCID: PMC3888479

Crowley, D. M., Coffman, D. L., Feinberg, M. E., & Greenberg, M. T. (2014). Evaluating the impact of implementation factors on family-based prevention programming: Methods for strengthening causal inference. Prevention Science, 15(2), 246-255. doi: 10.1007/s11121-012-0352-8  PMCID: PMC3859719

Crowley, D. M., Jones, D. E., Coffman, D. L., & Greenberg, M. T. (2014). Can we build an efficient response to the prescription drug abuse epidemic? Assessing the cost effectiveness of universal prevention. Preventive Medicine, 62, 71-77. doi: 10.1016/j.ypmed.2014.01.029. NIHMSID: NIHMS572493

Ford, D. W., Hartman, T. J., Still, C., Wood, G. C., Mitchell, D. C., Bailey, R., Smiciklas-Wright, H., Coffman, D. L., & Jensen, G. (2014). Diet quality and body mass index are associated with healthcare resource use in rural older adults. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. doi: 10.1016/j.jand.2014.02.016

Ford, D. W., Hartman, T. J., Still, C., Wood, G. C., Mitchell, D., Erickson, P., Bailey, R., Smiciklas-Wright, H., Coffman, D. L., & Jensen, G. (2014). Body mass index, poor diet quality, and health-related quality of life are associated with mortality in rural older adults. Journal of Nutrition in Gerontology and Geriatrics, 33(1), 23-34. doi: 10.1080/21551197.2014.875819

Ford, D. W., Jensen, G., Still, C., Wood, C., Mitchell, D., Erickson, P., Bailey, R., Smiciklas-Wright, H., Coffman, D. L., & Hartman, T. J. (2014). The associations between diet quality, body mass index (BMI) and health related quality of life (HRQOL) in the Geisinger Rural Aging Study (GRAS). Journal of Nutrition, Health, & Aging, 18, 167-170.

Smith, R. A., Wienke, S. E., & Coffman, D. L. (2014). Alpha-1 couples: Interpersonal and intrapersonal predictors of spousal communication and stress. Journal of Genetic Counseling, 23(2), 212 - 220. doi:10.1007/s10897-013-9639-6 PMCID: PMC3921266

Solmeyer, A. R., Feinberg, M. E., Coffman, D. L., & Jones, D. E. (2014). The effects of the Family Foundations prevention program on coparenting and child adjustment: A mediation analysis. Prevention Science, 15(2), 213-233. doi: 10.1007/s11121-013-0366-x PMCID: PMC3683104

Lanza, S. T., Coffman, D. L., & Xu, S. (2013). Causal inference in latent class analysis. Structural Equation Modeling, 20(3), 361-383. PMC Journal-In Process

Lippold, M., Coffman, D. L., & Greenberg, M. T. (2013). Investigating the potential causal relationship between parental knowledge and youth risky behavior: A propensity score analysis. Prevention Science. doi: 10.1007/s11121-013-0443-1  PMCID: PMC4039612

Solmeyer, A. R., Feinberg, M. E., Coffman, D. L., & Jones, D. E. (2013). The effects of the Family Foundations prevention program on coparenting and child adjustment: A mediation analysis. Prevention Science. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1007/s11121-013-0366-x PMCID: PMC3683104

Coffman, D. L., Caldwell, L. L., & Smith, E. A. (2012). Introducing the at-risk average causal effect with application to HealthWise South Africa. Prevention Science. Advance online publication. doi:10.1007/s11121-011-0271-0 PMCID: PMC3405190

Coffman, D. L., & Kugler, K. C. (2012). Causal mediation of a human immunodeficiency virus preventive intervention. Nursing Research, 61(3), 224-230. PMCID: PMC3377683

Coffman, D. L., & Zhong, W. (2012). Assessing mediation using marginal structural models in the presence of confounding and moderation. Psychological Methods, 17,(4), 342-664. doi: 10.1037/a0029311 PMCID: PMC3553264

Coffman, D. L. (2011). Estimating causal effects in mediation analysis using propensity scores. Structural Equation Modeling, 18(3), 357-369. PMCID: PMC3212948

Coffman, D. L., Smith, E. A., Flisher, A. J., & Caldwell, L. L. (2011). Effects of HealthWise South Africa on condom use self-efficacy. Prevention Science, 12(2), 162-172. PMCID: PMC3102775

Maydeu-Olivares, A., Coffman, D. L., Garcia-Forero, C., & Gallardo-Pujol, D. (2010). Hypothesis testing for coefficient alpha: An SEM approach. Behavior Research Methods, 42(2), 618-625. PMCID: PMC3027072

Coffman, D. L., & Belue, R. (2009). Disparities in sense of community: True race differences or differential item functioning? Journal of Community Psychology, 37(5), 547-558. PMCID: PMC2772185

Maydeu-Olivares, A., Kramp, U., Garcia-Forero, C., Gallardo-Pujol, D., & Coffman, D. (2009). The effect of varying the number of response alternatives in rating scales: Experimental evidence from intra-individual effects. Behavior Research Methods, 41(2), 295-308.

Coffman, D. L. (2008). Model misspecification in covariance structure models: Some implications for power and Type I error. Methodology, 4(4), 159-167.

Coffman, D. L., Maydeu-Olivares, A., & Arnau, J. (2008). Asymptotically distribution-free interval estimation for an intraclass correlation coefficient with applications to longitudinal data. Methodology, 4(1), 4-9.

Coffman, D. L., Patrick, M. E., Palen, L., Rhoades, B. L., & Ventura, A. K. (2007). Why do high school seniors drink? Implications for a targeted approach to intervention. Prevention Science, 8, 241-248.

Maydeu-Olivares, A., Coffman, D. L., & Hartmann, W. M. (2007). Asymptotically distribution-free interval estimation for coefficient alpha. Psychological Methods, 12(2), 157-176.

Maydeu-Olivares, A., & Coffman, D. L. (2006). Random intercept item factor analysis. Psychological Methods, 11(4), 344-362. 

Coffman, D. L., & Millsap, R. E. (2006). Evaluating latent growth curve models using individual fit statistics. Structural Equation Modeling, 13(1), 1-27.


Selected Book Chapters

Coffman, D. L. (in press).  Third variables: Scientific meanings and modeling in non-randomized studies. In S. J. Henley (Ed.), Advanced Quantitative Methods in Nursing Research. London, UK: Routledge International.



Selected Software & Technical Reports

Ghosh, D., Zhu, Y., & Coffman, D. L. (2013). Penalized regression procedures for variable selection in the potential outcomes framework. Technical Report. University Park, PA: Penn State University, Department of Statistics. Available at:

Schoemann, A. M., Preacher, K. J., & Coffman, D. L. (2010, April). Plotting power curves for RMSEA. [Software]. Lawrence, KS: University of Kansas. Available at

Preacher, K. L., & Coffman, D. L. (2006). Computing power and minimum sample size for RMSEA. [Software]. Laurence, KS: University of Kansas. Available at


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