Correlation Coefficients

If two things are correlated, what does that mean? Does one cause the other, or are they just vaguely related? What is a correlation coefficient?

Correlation Coefficients Correlation Coefficients

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Table of contents
    • What is a correlation coefficient?
    • How are correlation coefficients used?
    • What is the correlation coefficient example?
    • What is an example of a correlation coefficient?

    Correlation Coefficients Definition

    Let’s start with understanding what a correlation is first. Have you ever noticed that two things seem to be related? It can be as simple as the hotter it is outside, the more water you drink. You’ve noticed that when the temperature rises, your water consumption also increases. In this instance, you’re noting that these two factors are correlated.

    A correlation is a relationship between two variables.

    In the example above, the two variables would be temperature and water consumption. You know these two variables are related, but you need to remember an essential part about correlations – correlation does not equal causation.

    Correlation does not equal causation. Studies that rely on the correlational method differ from those that use the experimental method. The experimental method involves the manipulation of the variables, allowing experimental studies to prove causation. However, since correlational studies only look at variables and don’t manipulate them, they cannot prove causation. Even if two variables seem extremely related and as though one causes the other, it is correlated.

    Now that we understand a correlation, what is a correlation coefficient?

    A correlation coefficient is a value that shows how strong a correlation is between two variables and what direction that correlation is. The correlation coefficient is represented by the letter “r”.

    So, you could look at temperature and water consumption and know they’re correlated, but a little more goes into understanding correlation coefficients.

    Correlation Coefficients, A photo of someone drinking water, StudySmarterA person drinking water on a hot day, freepik.com

    Correlation Coefficient Interpretation

    We now know what a correlation coefficient is, but how does it work?

    Positive vs Negative Correlation

    Let’s first break down positive and negative correlations. When two variables increase or decrease, that would be considered a positive correlation. A negative correlation isn’t actually when both variables decrease, but when the variables move in opposite directions – one increases and one decreases. This knowledge is vital for understanding the values of the correlation coefficient.

    Correlation Coefficient Values

    The correlation coefficient ranges on a scale from -1.00 to 1.00. -1.00 shows the strongest possible negative correlation, and 1.00 shows the strongest possible positive correlation. As you might guess, a correlation coefficient value of 0 indicates no correlation.

    Correlation coefficients that are less than -0.80 or greater than 0.80 are significant. A correlation with a correlation coefficient of, for example, 0.21 does show a correlation, but it is not strong.

    Don’t get a correlation coefficient confused with a p-value! Psychologists use a p-value to determine if the values from the experiment are statistically significant. A p-value that is less than .05 is statistically significant. On the other hand, a correlation coefficient tells psychologists if two variables have a relationship.

    Correlation Coefficients Formula

    Below is the formula for finding the correlation coefficient. It looks like a lot, but don’t be scared! Let’s break it down, so it’s more digestible.

    r=n( xy)-(x)(y)[nx2-(x)2] [ny2-(y)2]

    Above is the formula for finding the correlation coefficient. It looks like a lot, but don’t be scared! Let’s break it down so it’s more digestible.

    • As stated earlier, the value of r represents the correlation coefficient. It’s what we’re trying to find.
    • The value of n stands for the number of data points in the set (AKA, how many participants did you have?)
    • The stands for “the summation of.” What that means is that all the values of each category are added together. So if you had ∑x and your x values were 80, 20, and 100, ∑x = 200.

    The numerator would have the number of participants in the set multiplied by the summation of the x times y values. So, you’d multiply a participant’s x value by their y value, do this for every participant, then add them all together (and multiply by the total number of participants). Then, all the x-values (all x-values added together) are multiplied by the summation of all the y-values. This second value is subtracted from the first value to get your numerator.

    The denominator has a little more going on. The number of participants is multiplied by the summation of all the x-values squared. So, you’d have to square each x-value, add them all up, and then multiply by the number of participants. Then, you would square the total x-values (add up the x-values and then square that number. The first value then subtracts this second value.

    Correlation Coefficients, Calculator, StudySmarterCorrelation Coefficient Calculations, flaticon.com

    The next part of the denominator is the same thing you just did, but replace the x-values with y-values. This second final number is multiplied by the final number from all the x-values. Finally, the square root is taken from this value you just got from multiplying.

    Last but not least, the numerator value is divided by the denominator value to get your correlation coefficient!

    Of course, other options for finding the correlation coefficient involve using a website or using SPSS or other psychology statistical software. When in lab settings, you will most likely use software to find the correlation coefficient, but it is important to understand where the value comes from and how to get it.

    Correlation Coefficients Example

    An extremely common example of a correlation is between height and weight. In general, someone who is taller is going to be heavier than someone who is shorter. These two variables, height & weight, would be positively correlated since they either both increase or decrease. Let’s pretend you ran a study to see if these are correlated.

    Your study consisted of ten data points from ten people.

    1. 61 inches, 140 pounds

    2. 75 inches, 213 pounds

    3. 64 inches, 134 pounds

    4. 70 inches, 175 pounds

    5. 59 inches, 103 pounds

    6. 66 inches, 144 pounds

    7. 71 inches, 220 pounds

    8. 69 inches, 150 pounds

    9. 78 inches, 248 pounds

    10. 62 inches, 120 pounds

    You then either plug the data into SPSS or find the correlation coefficient by hand. Let’s gather values we know.

    n = 10 (how many data points in the study?)

    ∑xy = 113676 (what are the x and y values multiplied and then all added together? For example, (61*140) + (75*213) + (64*134) + …)

    ∑x = 675 (add all the x values together)

    ∑y = 1647 (add all the y values together)

    ∑x2 = 45909 (square all the x values then add them together)

    ∑y2 = 291699 (square all the y values then add them together)

    r=n( xy)-(x)(y)[nx2-(x)2] [ny2-(y)2]

    Start with the numerator and plug in your values.

    10(113676) - (675)(1647)

    = 1136760 - 1111725

    = 25035

    Then the denominator.

    (10*45909 - (675)2) (10*291699 - (1647)2)

    = (459090 - 455625) (2916990 - 2712609)

    = 3465*204381

    = 708180165

    Don’t forget to square root it!

    = 2661.654684

    Finally, divide the numerator by the denominator!

    25035 / 26611.654684

    = 0.950899

    ~ 0.95

    As you correctly assumed, the height and weight of the data in this experiment are strongly correlated!

    Correlation Coefficient Significance

    A correlation coefficient is an essential tool for researchers in determining the strength of their correlational studies. Correlational research is an integral part of the field of psychology and the correlation coefficient serves as the benchmark for what a strong correlation looks like. Without it, there would be no parameters for what makes a strong correlation and what makes a weak or nonexistent one.

    Correlation Coefficients - Key takeaways

    • The correlation coefficient is the value that shows the strength between the two variables in a correlation.
    • A correlation coefficient higher than 0.80 or lower than -0.80 is considered a strong correlation.
    • A correlation coefficient that is positive means the correlation is positive (both values move in the same direction) and a correlation coefficient that is negative means the correlation is negative (the values move in opposite directions).
    • The correlation coefficient equation is: r=n( xy)-(x)(y)[nx2-(x)2] [ny2-(y)2]
    Frequently Asked Questions about Correlation Coefficients

    What are correlation coefficients in simple terms?

    Correlation coefficients are the values that are calculated that show how strong two variables are correlated (related to one another). 

    What are examples of correlation coefficients?

    An example of a correlation coefficient would be -.85, showing a strong negative correlation. 

    What does correlation coefficient of 0.9 mean?

    A correlation coefficient of 0.9 means that the two variables have a strong positive correlation. 

    How is correlation coefficient used in psychology?

    The correlation coefficient is used to tell researchers how strong two variables are related to one another. 

    How do you find the correlation coefficient in psychology?

    To find the correlation coefficient, you can either use a formula or statistical software. 

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    What letter is the correlation coefficient represented by?

    What is the cut-off for what is considered to be a strong correlation?

    True or false? A correlation coefficient has the same function as a p-value. 

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