Correlation and Causality


When teaching psychology and health I have found that a top evaluation issue that students can really get their teeth into and discuss well in part B essays is the issue of correlation and causality (or more accurately lack of causality).

Because of the practical and ethical problems of studying health and illness this tricky little number occurs very frequently.

I give small groups of students an example of a correlational analysis to evaluate so that they can work out for themselves the issue of lack of causality and then ask them to present their findings back to the rest of the class. All of these examples are easy to print – and if you have any other (better) examples please leave a comment.

Here are the examples that I use:

It is very empowering for the students to rip apart this scientific research and I think it gives them the strength to do the same to the material they are learning for this unit. I would love to hear of any other examples of correlations that teachers use – even any anecdotal ones such as the correlation between ice cream sales and deaths from drowning.

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3 Responses to “Correlation and Causality”

  1. mcewen April 26, 2007 at 1:48 am #

    If you want some good examples, there is [quite an old one now] book called ‘how to lie with Statistics’ by Darrell Huff [no advertising!] I read it a couple of decades ago and although I’m not of a particularly scientific fame of mind, it made a powerful impact on me.
    Best wishes

  2. Jamie Davies August 3, 2008 at 7:56 pm #

    And another recent correlation published in Scientific American Mind about the correlation between tattoos and anti-social behaviour.

    Read it here

  3. Mrrrrb December 23, 2013 at 9:07 am #

    Smacking causes cancer…. our local paper reported on Plymouth Uni’s research in a causal manner… The daily mail was more restrained surprisingly (…can increase risk…)

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