Correlation Doesn’t Necessarily Mean Causation
by Annie Shao, age 18
People who eat oatmeal die sooner than people who do not.
You probably think this article will be about some terrifying carcinogen, but I assure you oatmeal is perfectly healthy. Still, the statement above remains true. My psychology teacher read this fact to our class during her lecture about correlation and causation. Correlation means that two variables are related. Causation means that one variable directly causes another.
My teacher used this bogus fact to illustrate that correlation does not always mean causation. And I think it is a good point. Think about it, don’t older people tend to eat oatmeal more than younger people, and don’t older people die sooner than younger people? Clearly, death is not brought on by a taste for oatmeal. Oatmeal may be related to a shortened lifespan, but it does not cause death.
The significance of this psychology lesson is not the seemingly ludicrous oatmeal fact, but the logic behind it. It is important not to assume one thing causes another just because they are related. It is always smart to stop and think through the logic of the relationship. Next time you blame your bad luck on the black cat you saw, or attribute your good test score to a certain pencil you used, think about correlation versus causation. And question the logic, or lack of logic, behind your thoughts.