Correlational Versus Experimental Research

A distinction is often made between experimental and correlational (or observational) research. In true experiments, independent variables are manipulated; that is, the assignment of subjects to the level of the independent variable is under control of the experimenter. If the experiment is conducted properly, it is possible to make causal statements about the effect of the independent variable on the dependent variable. In correlational studies, values are simply observed, no attempt is made to manipulate the independent variables, and it is not possible to make causal statements. Suppose we wanted to compare the effectiveness of two methods of teaching reading. If we simply measured the reading ability of students taught by the two methods, we could not be sure whether any differences were due to the teaching methods themselves or to other factors "correlated" with the use of the methods. Perhaps one of the methods tended to be used more in neighborhoods that had schools with smaller class sizes and families who provided more support to students.

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