# How to Interpret Correlations in Research Results Video

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• 0:11 Introduction
• 0:50 The Purpose of Correlations
• 3:41 Interpreting the…
• 7:20 Interpreting the…
• 11:06 Cautions with Correlations
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Wind Goodfriend
Perhaps the most common statistic you'll see from psychology is a correlation. Do you know how to correctly interpret correlations when you see them? This lesson covers everything you need to know.

## Introduction to Correlation

Imagine you're reading the newspaper, and you see an article that says that a study was done on whether reading books about vampires makes children want to turn into vampires themselves. The article says that there's a correlation between reading vampire books and desire to be a vampire, and that the correlation is -1.5. The reporter concludes that vampire books should be banned, because they are causing children to turn into vampires! What do you think of this reporter's conclusion? If you understand the theory and statistics behind correlational studies, you'll know that this reporter needs to go back to school to learn about how correlations really work. That's the topic of this lesson.

## The Purpose of Correlations

A correlation is a simple statistic that explains whether there's a relationship or association between any two variables. Correlations are probably the most common statistic used in the field of psychology, so it's important to understand how they work.

Let's start with how we might do a basic correlational study before we get to the meaning behind the actual numbers from the statistics. In a correlational study, researchers pick two variables they think might be associated with each other. For this lesson, let's think about a student who wants to go from high school to college. The admissions office at each college will want to know what that student's high school grades were like, because they believe that high school grades can predict college grades. In other words, they believe that high school grades are associated with college grades. Why would they make this conclusion? They could make a graph showing all of the students they have accepted in the past, and this graph could show both variables.

On the y-axis, we could plot each student's high school grade point average. On the x-axis we could plot that same student's overall college grade point average. We put a dot on the graph showing where these two variables intersect. We keep going until we have a dot for every student. Each dot represents one person. This type of graph is called a scatter plot. A scatter plot shows a dot for each person of interest, where each dot represents one person's scores on the two variables of interest. Here, each dot shows one person's high school grades and college grades. You can remember the name 'scatter plot' because after we plot, or mark, the graph with each person, it looks like a bunch of dots have been scattered all over it.

After all of the dots have been plotted, we can look for the general pattern, or trend, that is a representation of most people. In other words, if you were to draw a single, straight line on this graph, where would you draw the line? It would probably be right here. This line is a quick summary of the general pattern of dots we see on the scatter plot.

Now, how does this graph relate to correlations? A correlation is simply a number that is assigned to represent this scatter plot and this line. The equation for how to calculate the number you end up with is complicated, and you don't need to know it until you take a statistics class in college. For now, all you need to know is that the equation gives you a number that's like a code, and you can interpret this number, or code, to know what the graph looks like that resulted in this number. How to read the number is what we'll cover next in this lesson.

## Interpreting the Statistic: Direction

The resulting statistic you get from a correlation equation is called a correlation coefficient. There will always be two parts to a correlation coefficient. The first part is the sign, or direction, meaning whether the coefficient is a positive number or a negative number. That sign is the first part of the code you need to know.

The second part of the correlation coefficient will be a number. The number will always be between zero and one. That means that the correlation coefficient will always be somewhere between negative one and positive one, but it could be anywhere in between. Let's go over each part of the correlation coefficient and discuss what that part means.

We'll start with the sign, or direction. Unless your coefficient is exactly zero, you'll have a number that's either positive or negative. The sign of positive or negative is simply a code that indicates how the line appeared on the scatter plot. Remember our example before? We plotted high school grades and college grades, and we ended up with a line that looked like this. Notice that the line goes from the bottom left corner of the graph to the upper right corner of the graph. That means that as one of our variables went up in value, so did the other variable. In other words, if a student had a high GPA in high school, he or she is likely to also have a high GPA in college. As one variable gets higher, the other variable also gets higher.

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