Causal & Relational Hypotheses: Definitions & Examples

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  • 0:01 What Are Causal &…
  • 0:27 Examples
  • 2:01 Comparing Causal &…
  • 3:12 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Yolanda Williams

Yolanda has taught college Psychology and Ethics, and has a doctorate of philosophy in counselor education and supervision.

Did you know that causal hypotheses imply a cause-and-effect relationship, while relational hypotheses do not? In this lesson, we will define causal and relational hypotheses and discuss examples of both.

What Are Causal & Relational Hypotheses?

A hypothesis is a statement that predicts the relationship between a set of variables. Variables are factors that are likely to change. Relational hypotheses aim to determine if relationships exist between a set of variables. Causal hypotheses aim to determine if changes in one variable cause changes in another. Let's look at each of these concepts more closely.


Sam is a researcher studying academic performance in high school students. He is interested in three variables: grade point average (GPA), number of hours spent studying, and ACT scores. Sam collects information on each of the three variables from 2,300 high school students, and then develops two hypotheses.

Sam's first hypothesis is that there is a positive relationship between GPA and ACT scores. In other words, students with higher GPAs tend to have higher scores on the ACT. Sam's first hypothesis is a relational hypothesis because Sam is simply proposing that some relationship exists between two variables. Though Sam's relational hypothesis is a positive one, relational hypotheses can also be negative. For example, another relational hypothesis may suggest there is a negative relationship between days absent from school and GPA. Or they can also have no direction at all, as in a hypothesis that says a significant relationship exists between attendance and GPA.

Sam's second hypothesis is that studying leads to increased performance on the ACT. Here, Sam is proposing that increasing the amount of time spent studying has a direct, positive effect on ACT scores. Sam's second hypothesis is a causal hypothesis, because it signifies a cause-and-effect relationship. Whereas a relational hypothesis can be non-directional, causal hypotheses are always directional. This means that a causal hypothesis must either propose a negative or positive cause-and-effect relationship.

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