Correlation vs Causation: Whats the Difference?

cause and effect correlation

An independent variable represents the supposed cause, while the dependent variable is the supposed effect. A confounding variable is a third variable that influences both the independent and dependent variables. Systematic sampling is a probability sampling method where researchers select members of the population at a regular interval – for example, by selecting every 15th person on a list of the population. If the population is in a random order, this can imitate the benefits of simple random sampling. Between-subjects and within-subjects designs can be combined in a single study when you have two or more independent variables (a factorial design). In a mixed factorial design, one variable is altered between subjects and another is altered within subjects.

The main difference with a true experiment is that the groups are not randomly assigned. Cluster sampling is more time- and cost-efficient than other probability sampling methods, particularly when it comes to large samples spread across a wide geographical area. In general, you should always use random assignment in this type of experimental design when it is ethically possible and makes sense for your study topic. While a between-subjects design has fewer threats to internal validity, it also requires more participants for high statistical power than a within-subjects design.

cause and effect correlation

Then you can start your data collection, using convenience sampling to recruit participants, until the proportions in each subgroup coincide with the estimated proportions in the population. The main difference is that in stratified sampling, you draw a random sample from each subgroup (probability sampling). In quota sampling you select a predetermined number or proportion of units, in a non-random manner (non-probability sampling). Snowball sampling is a non-probability sampling method, where there is not an equal chance for every member of the population to be included in the sample. Limitations exist when it comes to how much you can learn from correlations, as correlation alone isn’t enough to prove causation.

Correlation vs. Causation: What’s the Difference?

For example, say you want to investigate how income differs based on educational attainment, but you know that this relationship can vary based on race. Using stratified sampling, you can ensure you obtain a large enough sample from each racial group, allowing you to draw more precise conclusions. An extraneous variable is any variable that you’re not investigating that can potentially affect the dependent variable of your research study. Depending on your study topic, there are various other methods of controlling variables.

Blinding means hiding who is assigned to the treatment group and who is assigned to the control group in an experiment. Because there are no restrictions on their choices, respondents can answer in ways that researchers may not have otherwise considered. Closed-ended, or restricted-choice, questions offer respondents a fixed set of choices to select from.

cause and effect correlation

Experts(in this case, math teachers), would have to evaluate the content validity by comparing the test to the learning objectives. When a test has strong face validity, anyone would agree that the test’s questions appear to measure what they are intended to measure. Face validity and content validity are similar in that they both evaluate how suitable the content of a test is. The difference is that face validity is subjective, and assesses content at surface level. If the test fails to include parts of the construct, or irrelevant parts are included, the validity of the instrument is threatened, which brings your results into question. In consequence, we must constantly resist the temptation to see meaning in chance and to confuse correlation and causation.

On the other hand, content validity evaluates how well a test represents all the aspects of a topic. Of each question, analyzing whether each one covers the aspects that the test was designed to cover. The higher the content validity, the more accurate the measurement of the construct. In another correlation versus causation example, it may not be as easy to identify whether causation is present with two variables. For example, you could find a correlation between the amount someone exercises and their reported levels of happiness. You’ll need to use an appropriate research design to distinguish between correlational and causal relationships.

What’s the difference between correlation and causation?

To implement random assignment, assign a unique number to every member of your study’s sample. In a within-subjects design, each participant experiences all conditions, and researchers test the same participants repeatedly for differences between conditions. In a between-subjects design, every participant experiences only one condition, and researchers assess group differences between participants in various conditions. Random error is a chance difference between the observed and true values of something (e.g., a researcher misreading a weighing scale records an incorrect measurement). A correlation is usually tested for two variables at a time, but you can test correlations between three or more variables.

  1. By keeping all variables constant between groups, except for your independent variable treatment, any differences between groups can be attributed to your intervention.
  2. Methods are the specific tools and procedures you use to collect and analyze data (for example, experiments, surveys, and statistical tests).
  3. Cross-sectional studies are less expensive and time-consuming than many other types of study.
  4. A control group lets you compare the experimental manipulation to a similar treatment or no treatment (or a placebo, to control for the placebo effect).
  5. The two variables are correlated with each other and there is also a causal link between them.

The Pearson product-moment correlation coefficient (Pearson’s r) is commonly used to assess a linear relationship between two quantitative variables. Relatedly, in cluster sampling you randomly select entire groups and include all units of each group in your sample. However, in stratified sampling, you select some units of all groups and include them in your sample. In this way, both methods can ensure that your sample is representative of the target population. Even when variables are strongly correlated, it doesn’t prove a change in one variable caused the change in the other. Causation occurs when one variable is directly responsible for the change in the other.

What is the difference between correlation and cause and effect?

It is used by scientists to test specific predictions, called hypotheses, by calculating how likely it is that a pattern or relationship between variables could have arisen by chance. Mediators are part of the causal pathway of an effect, and they tell you how or why an effect takes place. Moderators usually help you judge the external validity of your study by identifying the limitations of when the relationship frf for smes frequently asked questions between variables holds. Including mediators and moderators in your research helps you go beyond studying a simple relationship between two variables for a fuller picture of the real world. They are important to consider when studying complex correlational or causal relationships. Researchers often model control variable data along with independent and dependent variable data in regression analyses and ANCOVAs.


Multistage sampling can simplify data collection when you have large, geographically spread samples, and you can obtain a probability sample without a complete sampling frame. The downsides of naturalistic observation include its lack of scientific control, ethical considerations, and potential for bias from observers and subjects. Good face validity means that anyone who reviews your measure says that it seems to be measuring what it’s supposed to.