Select your language

Suggested languages for you:
Log In Start studying!
StudySmarter - The all-in-one study app.
4.8 • +11k Ratings
More than 3 Million Downloads
Free
|
|

All-in-one learning app

  • Flashcards
  • NotesNotes
  • ExplanationsExplanations
  • Study Planner
  • Textbook solutions
Start studying

Causation in Psychology

Save Save
Print Print
Edit Edit
Sign up to use all features for free. Sign up now
Causation in Psychology

When trying to establish a new area of knowledge in psychology, proving that the aspects of research are causally linked is the epitome of sound research. It conclusively proves variables are related and advances the field of knowledge on the topic for further research.

Psychological research aims to scientifically discover more about the mind and behaviour.

Causation in psychology, head made of puzzles, StudySmarterPsychology piecing head jigsaw pieces together, freepik.com/rawpixel.com

Causation in psychology: Definition

Psychologists apply the scientific method to carry out their research. The findings from research can be considered empirical if carried out properly.

Causation in psychology is understanding phenomena in terms of cause and effect and relating the two conclusively. This means that the research should state:

  • The cause - describes what happens
  • The effect - explains what happens as a consequence of the cause.

The phrase ceteris paribus, meaning all other things being equal, relates to establishing a causal relationship in research. The independent variable must change/affect the dependent variable, ceteris paribus, to rule out extraneous variables.

Rules of causation in psychology

When carrying out research that tests causal relationships, there are four rules researchers have to consider:

  • Association
    • To establish a causation relationship between two variables, they must be empirically tested
    • To establish a causal relationship, there must be an association between the two variables

A researcher should find a significant pattern that indicates that as one variable increases, the other must also increase or decrease.

Causation psychology, a man presenting a causation graph, StudySmarterA graph indicating the link between two variables, freepik.com/pch.vector

  • Time order
    • The temporal order between the cause and effect must be sequential. This means that the researcher needs to observe the cause first and then see the effect. This allows the researcher to identify that the effect occurred as a result of the cause.

Imagine researching how sleep deprivation affects exam results. For a causal relationship to be established, you need to observe that exam results changed from before students were sleep-deprived and rule out other variables (lack of food and poor diet affecting concentration levels, for instance).

  • Nonspuriousness
    • Causal relationships should not be a result of external variables (confounding/ extraneous variables), as this may show that the effect may be explained by a variable that the researcher did not describe as the cause.

Research that found sleep deprivation affected students' exam results. However, when the study was replicated, this causal relationship was no longer found when the exam took place in the morning. This suggests that the time exam is taken may be the cause rather than sleep deprivation.

  • Chance
    • The researchers need to ensure that the research is reliable and valid and that the results did not happen by chance. This means that the results found have to be significant (this is usually done using statistical analysis tests).

Chance in psychology research is the probability that the results measured resulted from an error/pure chance.

Example of causation in psychology

There are research and theory examples of causation in psychology. These have been carried out/postulated to identify if a cause-and-effect can explain the phenomena.

Experimental research is a research example of causation in psychology. In this type of research:

  • experimental research aims to scientifically test causation relationships between variables
  • the researcher proposes a hypothesis - this describes the causation theory they expect to find
  • the researcher empirically tests the hypothesis. This is done by observing what happens to a variable (dependent variable) when the other is manipulated (independent variable)
    • variables that are not supposed to be investigated may affect the dependent variable (confounding/ extraneous variables need to be controlled). This is because they may contribute to explaining the effects of the dependent variable and reduce the validity of the results.

The independent variable is manipulated to see if changes in this affect the dependent variable. Therefore causation in experimental research hypothesises that:

  • the independent variable is the cause
  • the dependent variable is the effect

Causation psychology, causation processes, StudySmarterDiagram illustrating causation processes, flaticon.com/premium-icon

The social causation theory in psychology

A theory example of causation in psychology is the social causation theory.

The social causation theory in psychology proposes that mental health/disease results from social conditions and/or social interactions. For instance, not having enough money to pay bills is the reason for a mental breakdown.

The social causation theory has been applied to psychology and has found that people from lower socioeconomic classes are more likely to develop psychiatric disorders.

This is evidence of a theory example of causation in psychology as the theory explains and describes:

  • the cause - lower socioeconomic class
  • and the effect - higher risk of developing psychiatric disorders

Evaluation of causation in psychology research

Let's discuss the strengths and weaknesses of causation in psychology research.

Strengths of investigating causation relationships in psychology

The strengths of investigating causation relationships in psychology are:

  • Understanding causation in psychology is important because it allows psychologists to empirically understand how factors/ actions can affect behaviour. This can be applied to clinical psychology to help create interventions and to reduce risk factors
  • Allowing psychologists to empirically observe the relationship between two variables. The research findings are more likely to be reliable and valid
  • Specific statistical tests have been created to help understand cause and effect relationships
    • regressions: is a statistical test used to measure the effect a variable has on another
    • as cause and effect can be measured using statistical analysis, the results are data-driven
    • the data-driven results allow the validity and reliability of the results to be tested

Weaknesses of investigating causation relationships in psychology

The weaknesses of investigating causation relationships in psychology are:

  • It is difficult to control all confounding/extraneous variables in research
    • This makes it difficult for researchers to identify if a cause can 100% explain the effects observed and affects the validity of the results
  • The cause and effect relationship of a phenomenon may describe the association between two variables. However, it may not be useful in understanding the mediational processes that may cause the effect;
    • for instance, the social causation theory in psychology describes lower socioeconomic class individuals as being at higher risk of developing psychiatric illnesses but does the living conditions, poor income status, or both explain this risk better
    • this limits the researchs' utility

The difference between correlation and causation psychology

It is important to note that not all research can infer causation relationships between two variables. The difference between correlation and causation psychology is:

  • causation research allows the researcher to identify that a change in a variable cause a change in another variable
  • correlational research allows the researcher to identify there is a relationship between two variables
    • the difference between correlation and causation psychology is that the researcher cannot establish if the results are due to chance or confounding/extraneous variables in correlational research. Therefore, correlational research cannot establish an actual cause and effect.

Causation - Key takeaways

  • Causation in psychology definition is the understanding of phenomena in terms of cause and effect. This means that the research should state:
    • the cause - describe what happens
    • the effect - explains what happens as a consequence of the changes in the cause.
  • When carrying out research testing causation relationships, there are four rules of causation in psychology that need to be considered:
    1. Association
    2. Time order
    3. Nonspuriousness
    4. Chance.
  • There are research and theory examples of causation in psychology. These have been carried out/ postulated to identify if a cause-and-effect can explain the phenomena. In experimental research, the independent variable is manipulated to see if changes in this affect the dependent variable. Therefore causation in experimental research hypothesises that the independent variable is the cause and the dependent variable is the effect
  • The social causation theory psychology is an example of a causation theory. This theory explains and describes the cause - lower socioeconomic class and the effect - higher risk of developing psychiatric disorders.
  • The strengths of investigating causation relationships in psychology are it allows the understanding of causation in psychology is important because it allows psychologists to empirically understand how factors/ actions can affect behaviour, it allows psychologists to empirically observe the relationship between two variables, specific statistical tests have been created to help understand cause and effect relationships, and the data-driven results allow the validity and reliability of the results to be tested.
  • The weaknesses of investigating causation relationships in psychology are that it is difficult to control all confounding/extraneous variables in research. This can affect the validity of the results, and the cause and effect relationship of a phenomenon may describe the association between two variables. However, it may not be useful in understanding the mediational processes that may cause the effect.
  • Correlational research allows the researcher to identify if there is a relationship between two variables. The difference between correlation and causation psychology is that the researcher cannot establish if the results are due to chance or confounding/extraneous variables in correlational research. Therefore, cause and effect cannot be established in correlational research.

Frequently Asked Questions about Causation in Psychology

The social causation theory psychology is an example of a causation theory. This theory explains and describes:

  • the cause as lower socioeconomic class
  • and the effect as higher risk of developing psychiatric disorders.

Causation research allows the researcher to identify if a change in a variable affects another. Whereas, in correlational research, cause-and-effect cannot be established. 


The causation in psychology definition is the understanding of a phenomena in terms of cause and effect. This means that the research should state:

  • the cause - describe what happens 
  • the effect - explains what happens as a consequence of the changes in the cause.

When carrying out research testing causation relationships, there are four rules of causation in psychology that need to be considered:

  1. Association 
  2. Time order 
  3. Nonspuriousness
  4. Chance

Experimental research can be used to determine causation in psychology. In this research method, the independent variable is manipulated to see if changes in this have an effect on the dependent variable. Therefore causation in experimental research hypothesises that:

  • the independent variable as the cause 
  • the dependent variable as the effect


Final Causation in Psychology Quiz

Question

 What are the four rules of causation in psychology? 

Show answer

Answer

When carrying out research testing causation relationships, there are four rules of causation in psychology that need to be considered:

  1. Association 
  2. Time order 
  3. Nonspuriousness 
  4. Chance

Show question

Question

What is the definition of causation? 

Show answer

Answer

Causation in psychology definition is the understanding of phenomena in terms of cause and effect. This means that the research should state:

  • the cause - describe what happens 
  • the effect - explains what happens as a consequence of the changes in the cause

Show question

Question

How does experimental research measure causation? 

Show answer

Answer

In experimental research, the independent variable is manipulated, to see if changes in this have an effect on the dependent variable. Therefore causation in experimental research hypothesises that:

  • the independent variable as the cause 
  • the dependent variable as the effect

Show question

Question

How does the social causation theory in psychology explain the causation relationship between social class and mental illnesses? 

Show answer

Answer

The social causation theory psychology is an example of a causation theory, this theory explains and describes:

  • the cause - lower socioeconomic class
  • and the effect - higher risk of developing psychiatric disorders

Show question

Question

What is the difference between correlation and causation psychology? 

Show answer

Answer

The difference between correlation and causation psychology is:

  • causation research allows the researcher to identify that a change in a variable cause a change in another variable 
    • cause and effect can be established in this method 
  • correlational research allows the researcher to identify there is a relationship between two variables 
    • cause and effect cannot be established on this 


Show question

Question

Which of the following analyses can be used to measure cause and effect? 

Show answer

Answer

Regressional analysis 

Show question

Question

Why can causational findings not be deduced from correlational research? 

Show answer

Answer

in correlational research, the researcher cannot establish if the results are due to chance or confounding/ extraneous variables. Therefore, cause and effect cannot be established in correlational research.

Show question

Question

A significant pattern should be found that indicates as one increases the other must also increase or decrease. Which rule of causation is this example? 

Show answer

Answer

Association 

Show question

Question

Which rule of causation is violated when researchers identify that a third variable has affected the dependent variable?

Show answer

Answer

Nonspuriousness

Show question

Question

What rule of causation in psychology is violated when the researcher finds an insignificant association? 

Show answer

Answer

Chance

Show question

Question

When researching how sleep deprivation affects exam results. For a causation relationship to be established the researcher needs to observe that exam results changed from before students were sleep-deprived. Which rule of causation in psychology does this research scenario describe? 

Show answer

Answer

Temporal order

Show question

Question

What type of variables should not influence the dependent variable when measuring causation? 

Show answer

Answer

Extraneous variables

Show question

Question

What is the aim of experimental research? 

Show answer

Answer

Experimental research aims to scientifically test causation relationships between two variables 

Show question

Question

What are the strengths of investigating causation relationships in psychology?

Show answer

Answer

The strengths of investigating causation relationships in psychology are: 

  • it allows the understanding of causation in psychology is important because it allows psychologists to empirically understand how factors/ actions can affect behaviour 
  • it allows psychologists to empirically observe the relationship between two variables
  • specific statistical tests have been created to help understand cause and effect relationships
    • the data-driven results allow the validity and reliability of the results to be tested

Show question

Question

What are the weaknesses of investigating causation relationships in psychology? 

Show answer

Answer

The weaknesses of investigating causation relationships in psychology are: 

  • it is difficult to control all confounding/ extraneous variables in research
    • this can affect the validity of the results 
  • the cause and effect relationship of a phenomenon may describe the association between two variables. However, it may not be useful in understanding the mediational processes that may cause the effect

Show question

60%

of the users don't pass the Causation in Psychology quiz! Will you pass the quiz?

Start Quiz

Discover the right content for your subjects

No need to cheat if you have everything you need to succeed! Packed into one app!

Study Plan

Be perfectly prepared on time with an individual plan.

Quizzes

Test your knowledge with gamified quizzes.

Flashcards

Create and find flashcards in record time.

Notes

Create beautiful notes faster than ever before.

Study Sets

Have all your study materials in one place.

Documents

Upload unlimited documents and save them online.

Study Analytics

Identify your study strength and weaknesses.

Weekly Goals

Set individual study goals and earn points reaching them.

Smart Reminders

Stop procrastinating with our study reminders.

Rewards

Earn points, unlock badges and level up while studying.

Magic Marker

Create flashcards in notes completely automatically.

Smart Formatting

Create the most beautiful study materials using our templates.

Just Signed up?

Yes
No, I'll do it now

Sign up to highlight and take notes. It’s 100% free.