Intervening Variable: Definition & Example

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  • 0:05 Intervening Variable Defined
  • 0:12 Examples of…
  • 3:05 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.

Sometimes the cause and effect relationship between independent and dependent variables is not obvious without the discovery of an intervening variable. Learn more about intervening variables from examples, and test your new knowledge with a quiz.

Intervening Variable Defined

An intervening variable is a variable that helps explain the relationship between two variables. But what does that really mean?

Examples of Intervening Variables

The Relationship Between Education and Spending

Joe is a psychologist interested in the relationship between education and spending. Joe decides to conduct a research study. Joe's study uses level of education as the independent variable. An independent variable is the variable that the researcher has control over and can manipulate. Spending is the dependent variable, or the variable that is being observed or measured for changes that are thought to be caused by the changes in the independent variable. The dependent variable is the effect or outcome that the researcher is interested in examining. Unlike the independent variable, the dependent variable is not manipulated by the researcher.

Because the independent variable is the presumed cause in an experiment, it is also called the predictor variable. Because the values of the dependent variable are caused by, and depend on the independent variable, the dependent variable is also called the outcome variable.

After conducting his study, Joe analyzes his results and finds that there is a relationship between level of education and spending. Specifically, the higher a person's level of education, the more money she or he spends. But how does this relationship exist? After all, we know that being highly educated does not directly cause you to spend more money. To answer this question, Joe looks to see if there are any intervening variables. Joe finds that income can explain the relationship between education and spending. The higher one's education, the more money one is likely to make. This means that a person will have more income left over to spend, which leads to increased spending. In this example, income is the intervening variable in the relationship between education and spending. Because the intervening variable explains how or why the independent variable affects the dependent variable, it is also referred to as the mediating variable.

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