Difference Between Causal and Correlational Research

Key Difference – Causal vs Correlational Research
 

Although some consider causal and correlational research as similar in nature, there exists a clear difference between these two types of research. In both natural and the social sciences research are being carried out for various purposes. These researches explore various dynamics of the phenomenon. Causal research is aimed at identifying the causal relationships among variables. Correlational research, on the other hand, is aimed at identifying whether an association exists or not. The key difference between causal and correlational research is that while causal research can predict causality, correlational research cannot. Through this article let us examine the differences between causal and correlational research further.

What is Causal Research?

Causal research aims at identifying causality among variables. This highlights that it allows the researcher to find the cause of a certain variable. For instance, a researcher who studies on why there is less participation of women in politics will attempt to find variables that cause this situation such as family responsibilities, the image of the woman, dangers associated, etc.

In causal research, the researcher usually measures the impact each variable has before predicting the causality. It is very important to pay attention to the variables because, in most cases, the lack of control over variables can lead to false predictions. This is why most researchers manipulate the research environment.  In the social sciences especially, it is very difficult to conduct causal research because the environment can consist of many variables that influence the causality that can go unnoticed. Now let us move on to correlational research.

Difference Between Causal and Correlational Research

A research on the lack of female political participation can identify causality

What is Correlational Research?

The correlational research attempts to identify associations among variables.  The key difference between correlational research and causal research is that correlational research cannot predict causality, although it can identify associations. However, it is important to stress that the researcher tries to comprehend the variables as separate entities as well as the association of variables. Another difference that can be highlighted between the two research methods is that in correlational research, the researcher does not attempt to manipulate the variables. He merely observes.

Let us comprehend this through an example of a research from the social sciences. A researcher who studies on aggressive child behavior will notice that the family plays a key role in shaping the behavior of the child. He will also identify from the data that have been gathered that children from broken families display a higher level of aggression, in comparison to others. In this case, the researcher notices an association between variables (level of aggression and broken families). Although he notices this connection, he cannot predict that broken homes act as a cause for the higher level of aggression.

Causal vs Correlational Research

A research on child aggression and broken families can find correlations between the variables.

What is the Difference Between Causal and Correlational Research?

Definitions of Causal and Correlational Research:

Causal research: Causal research aims at identifying causality among variables.

Correlational research: Correlational research attempts to identify associations among variables.

Characteristics of Causal and Correlational Research:

Nature:

Causal research: In causal research, the researcher identifies the cause and effect.

Correlational research: In correlational research, the researcher identifies an association.

Manipulation:

Causal research: In causal research, the researcher manipulates the environment.

Correlational research: In correlational research, the researcher does not manipulate the environment.

Causality:

Causal research:  Causal research can identify causality.

Correlational research: Correlational research cannot identify causality among variables.

 

Image Courtesy:

1. “Hillary Clinton with Afghan female politicians in 2011” by S.K. Vemmer (U.S. Department of State) – U.S. Embassy Kabul Afghanistan on Flickr – Secretary Clinton visit to Kabul 10.20.2011. [Public Domain] via Wikimedia Commons

2. “Bullying on Instituto Regional Federico Errázuriz (IRFE) in March 5, 2007” by Diego Grez. [CC BY 3.0] via Wikimedia Commons