Causation in Psychology

Understanding the causation of something is not an easy task for psychology researchers. It takes time, and there are specific protocols in place that must be followed to achieve this. A researcher can't simply state that an unhealthy diet can lead to memory issues; this is a serious claim that can have serious implications. Thus, the claim must be tested using a rigorous scientific method. 

Causation in Psychology Causation in Psychology

Create learning materials about Causation in Psychology with our free learning app!

  • Instand access to millions of learning materials
  • Flashcards, notes, mock-exams and more
  • Everything you need to ace your exams
Create a free account
Table of contents
    • We will start by learning the causation in psychology definition.
    • Then, we will explore the four rules of causation psychology.
    • Following this, we will delve into the difference between correlation and causation psychology.
    • Next, an example of causation in psychology will be discussed.
    • Finally, we will evaluate causation research.

    Causation in psychology, head made of puzzles, StudySmarterFig. 1 - In psychology, researchers try to put the pieces of human behaviour together via testing causation relationships between variables.

    Causation in Psychology Definition

    When trying to establish a new area of knowledge in psychology, showing that the aspects of research are causally linked is the epitome of sound research.

    Psychologists apply the scientific method to carry out their research. The findings from the research can be considered empirical if carried out properly. For research to be accepted by the psychology community, the investigated variables should be observable (empirical research), and the research and its results should be reliable and valid.

    Causation in psychology refers to understanding a phenomenon in terms of cause and effect and relating the two conclusively in a controlled scientific manner.

    Causation research should state:

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

    Experimental research is a form of causation research. It takes place in a controlled setting and attempts to understand the causation relationship between two variables.

    In the research, the independent variable is manipulated (hypothesised as the cause of the phenomenon). And the effect this has on the dependent variable is measured.

    During the causation experiment, extraneous variables, i.e. external factors that are not the independent variable that may influence the dependent variable, must be controlled.

    If not, this lowers the research's validity, and consequently, the findings are not accepted.

    Rules of Causation: Psychology

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

    The first rule of causation is testing an association to establish a causation relationship between two variables, and these must be empirically tested. The findings from testing the association must have either an association or show some significant pattern or trend when empirically tested.

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

    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.

    The sequential order allows the researcher to identify that the effect occurred due to the cause.

    Imagine researching how sleep deprivation affects exam results. For a causal relationship to be established, the researcher needs to observe that exam results changed before and after being sleep-deprived. It must also rule out that other external influences (extraneous variables) have been ruled out (e.g. lack of food and poor diet affecting concentration levels, for instance).

    The third rule of causation is nonspuriousness. Nonspuriousness means that causal relationships should not result from external variables (confounding/ extraneous variables).

    If this is the case, it can be assumed that the external variables may explain the effect observed in the independent variable better than the dependent variable.

    The research found that sleep deprivation affected students' exam results. However, when the study was replicated the following morning, the causal relationship was no longer found.

    The findings suggest that the time that students took the exam may be the cause rather than sleep deprivation.

    And the final rule of causation is chance. Researchers must ensure that the results found did not occur due to chance. If the results did not occur because of chance, similar results would be found when the study is replicated. Thus, the research has high validity and reliability. Chance is a statistical percentage that is measured via statistical tests.

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

    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 that causation research allows the researcher to identify that a change in a variable causes a change in another variable.

    Correlational research only 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, as external influences can't be controlled.

    Remember, correlational research is non-experimental and so external influences can't be controlled.

    Example of Causation in Psychology

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

    Experimental research is a research example of causation in psychology. In this type of research, the aim is to test causation relationships between variables scientifically..

    The scientific process involves:

    • First, the researcher proposes a hypothesis describing the causation relationship they expect to find.
    • Then, the researcher empirically tests the hypothesis, which 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), so they need to be controlled.

    It 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.

    Some examples of statements that measure causation are that non-sleep-deprived students will perform better than sleep-deprived participants or that anger-related issues will reduce after undergoing anger management sessions.

    The Social Causation Theory: Psychology

    An 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 or social interactions.

    An example of the social causation theory is not having enough money to pay bills can be a 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 an example of a causation theory as it explains and describes:

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

    Evaluation of Causation in Psychology Research

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

    The strengths of investigating causation relationships in psychology are:

    • Understanding causation in psychology is important because it allows psychologists to understand how factors/ actions can affect behaviour empirically. This can be applied to clinical psychology to help create interventions and to reduce risk factors.
    • Specific statistical tests have been created to help understand cause-and-effect relationships. Because 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.

    The weaknesses of investigating causation relationships in psychology are:

    • It isn't easy to control all confounding/extraneous variables in research, making it difficult for researchers to identify with certainty the cause of the effects and the validity of the results.
    • A phenomenon's cause-and-effect relationship may describe the association between two variables; however, it may not be useful in understanding the mediational processes that cause the effect, limiting the research's utility.

    For instance, the social causation theory in psychology describes lower socioeconomic class individuals at higher risk of developing psychiatric illnesses, but what aspect of socioeconomic class causes this connection?

    Does living conditions, poor income status, or both explain the risk best?


    Causation - Key takeaways

    • Causation in psychology definition is the understanding of a phenomenon in terms of cause and effect.
    • Causation is measured using rigorous scientific methods.
    • The four rules of causation psychology are associations, nonspuriousness, time order and chance.
    • The difference between correlation and causation psychology is that cause-and-effect relationships are not established in correlational research.
    • The social causation theory is an example of causation in psychology.
    Causation in Psychology Causation in Psychology
    Learn with 26 Causation in Psychology flashcards in the free StudySmarter app

    We have 14,000 flashcards about Dynamic Landscapes.

    Sign up with Email

    Already have an account? Log in

    Frequently Asked Questions about Causation in Psychology

    What is an example of causation in psychology?

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

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

    What is the difference between correlation and causation in psychology?

    The difference between correlation and causation psychology is that cause-and-effect relationships are not established in correlational research. 


    What is causation in psychology?

    Causation in psychology definition is the understanding of a phenomenon in terms of cause and effect.

    What are the rules of causation? 

    The four rules of causation psychology are associations, nonspuriousness, time order and chance.  

    How is causation determined in psychology?

    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 affect the dependent variable. Therefore causation in experimental research hypothesises that:

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


    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

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

    A significant pattern should be found that indicates changes in one variable affect another. Which rule of causation is this example? 

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

    Next
    1
    About StudySmarter

    StudySmarter is a globally recognized educational technology company, offering a holistic learning platform designed for students of all ages and educational levels. Our platform provides learning support for a wide range of subjects, including STEM, Social Sciences, and Languages and also helps students to successfully master various tests and exams worldwide, such as GCSE, A Level, SAT, ACT, Abitur, and more. We offer an extensive library of learning materials, including interactive flashcards, comprehensive textbook solutions, and detailed explanations. The cutting-edge technology and tools we provide help students create their own learning materials. StudySmarter’s content is not only expert-verified but also regularly updated to ensure accuracy and relevance.

    Learn more
    StudySmarter Editorial Team

    Team Causation in Psychology Teachers

    • 8 minutes reading time
    • Checked by StudySmarter Editorial Team
    Save Explanation

    Study anywhere. Anytime.Across all devices.

    Sign-up for free

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

    Join over 22 million students in learning with our StudySmarter App

    The first learning app that truly has everything you need to ace your exams in one place

    • Flashcards & Quizzes
    • AI Study Assistant
    • Study Planner
    • Mock-Exams
    • Smart Note-Taking
    Join over 22 million students in learning with our StudySmarter App