1. (noun) In statistical analysis, a broad term describing how a change in one variable is associated with a similar pattern of variation in another variable across cases in a dataset.

2. (noun) A standardized indicator of covariance.


  1. negative correlation
  2. positive correlation
  3. spurious correlation

Audio Pronunciation: (cor·re·la·tion)

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Usage Notes:

  • Plural: correlations
  • A correlation can be positive or negative. When variables move in the same direction, they are positively correlated, and when an increase in one variable causes a decrease in another variable, they are negatively correlated.
  • Perfect correlation is unlikely in the social sciences.
  • Correlation does not always equal causation. Inappropriate inference of causality is referred to as a spurious relationship (not to be confused with spurious correlation). Correlation only reveals a relationship between variables but not the context; the presence of a third factor that accounts for the association between variables is a confounding variable. Researchers must employ a rigorous methodology in order to adequately infer the nature and direction of correlated variables. For example, the positive correlation between hat sales and ice cream sales is likely not because the wearing of hats promotes a craving for ice cream, or vice versa, but because of a third, confounding variable: hot weather.
  • Correlation between two variables is measured statistically by a correlation coefficient (coefficient of association). There are different tests of correlation depending on the type of data and the characteristic of relationship being examined. A common test is the Pearson product-movement correlation (commonly referred to as Pearson correlation, r) which tests for linear correlation between two variables where data approximates interval level characteristics. When data does not meet the assumptions for the Pearson correlation test, nonparametric tests for rank correlation may be applied.
  • Correlational analysis typically occurs on interval level data.
  • Also called correlativity.
  • When two variables (verb) correlate they are (adverb) correlationally or (adverb) correlatively connected and (adjective) correlational or (adjective) correlative and (adjective) correlational analysis determines the strength of two variables using (noun) correlational statistics.

Additional Information:

Related Terms:

Contributor: C. E. Seaman

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How to Cite the Definition of Correlation

ASA – American Sociological Association (5th edition)

Seaman, C. E. 2015. “correlation.” In Open Education Sociology Dictionary, edited by Kenton Bell. Retrieved December 16, 2018 (

APA – American Psychological Association (6th edition)

Seaman, C. E. (2015). correlation. In K. Bell (Ed.), Open education sociology dictionary. Retrieved from

Chicago/Turabian: Author-Date – Chicago Manual of Style (16th edition)

Seaman, C. E. 2015. “correlation.” In Open Education Sociology Dictionary, edited by Kenton Bell. Accessed December 16, 2018.

MLA – Modern Language Association (7th edition)

Seaman, C. E. “correlation.” Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Ed. Kenton Bell. 2015. Web. 16 Dec. 2018. <>.