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Adv Physiol Educ. 2010 Dec;34(4):186-91. doi: 10.1152/advan.00068.2010.

Explorations in statistics: correlation.

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  • 1Division of Biostatistics and Bioinformatics, National Jewish Health, University of Colorado Denver, Denver, Colorado, USA.


Learning about statistics is a lot like learning about science: the learning is more meaningful if you can actively explore. This sixth installment of Explorations in Statistics explores correlation, a familiar technique that estimates the magnitude of a straight-line relationship between two variables. Correlation is meaningful only when the two variables are true random variables: for example, if we restrict in some way the variability of one variable, then the magnitude of the correlation will decrease. Correlation cannot help us decide if changes in one variable result in changes in the second variable, if changes in the second variable result in changes in the first variable, or if changes in a third variable result in concurrent changes in the first two variables. Correlation can help provide us with evidence that study of the nature of the relationship between x and y may be warranted in an actual experiment in which one of them is controlled.

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