In psychology, unlike other social sciences, a controlled experiment is a common type of research. However, psychology includes a plethora of different methods that cannot be classified as controlled experiments. It is, therefore, natural that science utilizes types of research that compare different variables. In such studies, variables are assumed to be dependent or independent of each other. Correlational research is one of these study types; it includes measuring two variables and analyzing their statistical relationship or correlation.
The most important aspect of correlational research is that, unlike experiments, it does not manipulate the variables. Correlational research may be used to describe and characterize the qualities of the relationship between the variables, if it is present, and provide evidence for a theory (Jhangiani et al., 2019). If a theory is supported by both a high-quality experiment and a correlational study, then it can be considered to have high validity (Jhangiani et al., 2019). For example, studies exist that prove the correlation between watching violent television and demonstrating aggressive behavior, which has been, in turn, proven by the experimental study as well.
Correlational research is significant to psychology because it has high external validity more often than an experiment does. When researchers add more control to their experiments, they increase internal validity, achieving their intended results. However, they decrease external validity, creating artificial conditions in which the subject of the test will usually not be in. In correlational research, the variables are not manipulated, and no artificial conditions are created; thus, their results reflect real-life situations more often and demonstrate the subject’s implementation in practice better. Therefore, correlational research surpasses experimentation when it is required to assess the subject of the study’s condition in a real-life environment.
There is currently a discussion on the future implementation of ‘correlation research’ as a term. Some scholars argue that the term is a mistake as it is and insist that it describes a statistical technique rather than a research design (Cramer & Howitt, 2020). However, the term remains widespread and is still used in many works. In psychology, it is prevalent in studies concerning stress, specifically psychological resilience and psychological health among students in colleges and universities (Iqbal et al., 2021; Liu & Zhang, 2019). In these works, correlational research determines the correlation between many variables, such as resilience, sense of control, depression, and others. Then, sophisticated methods are used, such as the multivariate linear stepwise regression analysis or the statistical package for social sciences, to determine the correlation between the variables during certain changes, such as in a regression equation. Thus, while ‘correlational research’ is considered by several scholars to be a result of wrong wording, it is still widely used in statistical studies, often including specific study methods.
Correlational research differs from other psychological studies because it is best done to verify the results of experiments. Its main characteristic is the unchanged state of all of its variables, which is different from experiments and is, therefore, optimal for confirming their results. However, correlational research can be done separately, as proven by the authors of the academic articles mentioned above. If all of the variables may be measured and concluded without having to resort to experimentation, and the validity of the results raises no concerns, then correlational research may be sufficient. Thus, correlational research is a relatively simple yet useful and, in some cases, a unique type of research in psychology.
Cramer, D., & Howitt, D. (2020). Research Methods in Psychology 6th Edition PDF Ebook. Pearson Education.
Iqbal, S., Akram, M., & Mushtaq, I. (2021). Relationship between Stress and Educational Performance of University Students: A Correlational Research Study. Review of Education, Administration &Amp; LAW, 4(4), 805–811.
Jhangiani, R.S., Chiang, I.A., Cuttler, C., & Leighton, D.C. (2019). Research Methods in Psychology: Core Concepts and Skills. Amsterdam University Press.
Liu, L., & Zhang, X. (2019). Correlational Research on the Relationship Between the Psychological Resilience and the Psychological Health of College Students. Proceedings of the 4th International Conference on Contemporary Education, Social Sciences and Humanities (ICCESSH 2019).