What Is Correlational Research Most Useful For?

Updated August 2, 2022by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Do Your Symptoms Correlate With A Mental Illness?

Introduction to Correlational Research

Psychological research is usually done in two forms: experimental research and correlational research. Experiments are usually performed in a laboratory setting and involve the manipulation of a measurable variable.

Correlational research, on the other hand, cannot determine a causal relationship. Just because two things occur at the same time doesn't mean that A necessarily causes B. There could be a third variable, C, that is actually causing A and B to occur together.

Correlational research explores the relationships between variables involved. This research is used to discover more about what links to variables together. One example is the Asch Conformity Study, which you can read about here.

When to Use Correlational Research

Although they cannot determine causality, correlational studies are quite useful. Some variables, such as a disability or mental illness, cannot be ethically manipulated. You can't ethically give someone depression, for instance, even if the intent is to help them get better - this is simply unethical and immoral. Other variables that cannot be manipulated are birth order, sex, and age.

Correlations are also useful for making predictions. Once a psychologist knows that two variables, A and B are correlated. He or she can make a more accurate measure of one from the other. Knowing how much of a change in B is produced by a change in A allows the psychologist to predict the change in B just by knowing the value of A.

Thirdly, when ethically and morally appropriate, correlational evidence can lead to hypotheses and experiments. A psychologist may want to figure out if a third variable, C, is involved or if A causes B. The reverse could also be true: B might be causing A. had the correlational research not been done, the relationship would not have been discovered.

Types of Correlational Research

There are various ways to gather information for correlational research. Some of the most well-known are surveys and naturalistic observation.

Surveys are useful when the population a researcher wants to sample is large and at a low cost. However, surveys generally generate a low response rate and there is no way to confirm that answers are honest.

Naturalistic observation involves the researchers simply observing his or her subjects in their natural habitat without interacting with them. This is useful when the researcher wants to study a specific population. Find out more from AP Psychology.

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