spurious relationship

(noun) In statistical analysis, a false correlation between two variables that is caused by a third variable.

Example: The oft-repeated example of a spurious relationship is when ice cream sales increase so do drownings. However, ice cream does not have a direct relationship to drownings, but instead warmer weather drives increased ice cream sales and the amount of people who go swimming, thus increasing a number of people drowning.

Audio Pronunciation: (spur·ious re·la·tion·ship)

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Usage Notes:

  • Plural: spurious relationships
  • Spurious relationships not identified as such can undermine the internal validity of research
  • Also called:
    • illusory correlation
    • spurious relation
    • spuriousness
  • Spurious correlation used in a sentence: My statistics teacher used the example of increased drownings and ice cream sells to illustrate a spurious correlation.

Additional Information:

Related Terms:

Works Consulted

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How to Cite the Definition of Spurious Relationship

ASA – American Sociological Association (5th edition)

Seaman, C. E. 2013. “spurious relationship.” In Open Education Sociology Dictionary, edited by Kenton Bell. Retrieved February 18, 2019 (http://sociologydictionary.org/spurious-relationship/).

APA – American Psychological Association (6th edition)

Seaman, C. E. (2013). spurious relationship. In K. Bell (Ed.), Open education sociology dictionary. Retrieved from http://sociologydictionary.org/spurious-relationship/

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

Seaman, C. E. 2013. “spurious relationship.” In Open Education Sociology Dictionary, edited by Kenton Bell. Accessed February 18, 2019. http://sociologydictionary.org/spurious-relationship/.

MLA – Modern Language Association (7th edition)

Seaman, C. E. “spurious relationship.” Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Ed. Kenton Bell. 2013. Web. 18 Feb. 2019. <http://sociologydictionary.org/spurious-relationship/>.