Statistics: An Introduction

Analyzing Relationships Among Variables

Statistical relationships between variables rely on notions of correlation and regression. These two concepts aim to describe the ways in which variables relate to one another:


Correlation tests are used to determine how strongly the scores of two variables are associated or correlated with each other. A researcher might want to know, for instance, whether a correlation exists between students' writing placement examination scores and their scores on a standardized test such as the ACT or SAT. Correlation is measured using values between +1.0 and -1.0. Correlations close to 0 indicate little or no relationship between two variables, while correlations close to +1.0 (or -1.0) indicate strong positive (or negative) relationships (Hayes et al. 554).

Correlation denotes positive or negative association between variables in a study. Two variables are positively associated when larger values of one tend to be accompanied by larger values of the other. The variables are negatively associated when larger values of one tend to be accompanied by smaller values of the other (Moore 208).

An example of a strong positive correlation would be the correlation between age and job experience. Typically, the longer people are alive, the more job experience they might have.

An example of a strong negative relationship might occur between the strength of people's party affiliations and their willingness to vote for a candidate from different parties. In many elections, Democrats are unlikely to vote for Republicans, and vice versa.


Regression analysis attempts to determine the best "fit" between two or more variables. The independent variable in a regression analysis is a continuous variable, and thus allows you to determine how one or more independent variables predict the values of a dependent variable.

Simple Linear Regression is the simplest form of regression. Like a correlation, it determines the extent to which one independent variables predicts a dependent variable. You can think of a simple linear regression as a correlation line. Regression analysis provides you with more information than correlation does, however. It tells you how well the line "fits" the data. That is, it tells you how closely the line comes to all of your data points. The line in the figure indicates the regression line drawn to find the best fit among a set of data points. Each dot represents a person and the axes indicate the amount of job experience and the age of that person. The dotted lines indicate the distance from the regression line. A smaller total distance indicates a better fit. Some of the information provided in a regression analysis, as a result, indicates the slope of the regression line, the R value (or correlation), and the strength of the fit (an indication of the extent to which the line can account for variations among the data points).

Multiple Linear Regression allows one to determine how well multiple independent variables predict the value of a dependent variable. A researcher might examine, for instance, how well age and experience predict a person's salary. The interesting thing here is that one would no longer be dealing with a regression "line." Instead, since the study deals with three dimensions (age, experience, and salary), it would be dealing with a plane, that is, with a two-dimensional figure. If a fourth variable was added to the equations, one would be dealing with a three-dimensional figure, and so on.

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