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In this article, a third factor is hypothesized to be responsible for correlations between two variables. A causal story is provided that could be mistakenly attributed to correlational data.

The Science of Headline-Grabbing Correlations


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Question: Can you think of your own potentially “headline-catching” correlation that could be explained by a third factor? Tell a causal story that could be mistakenly attributed to correlational data.

Asked by Itchyballsack

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"Headline: 'Social Media Usage Directly Linked to Increased Levels of Happiness'" Based on a recent study, individuals who report frequent use of social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter also report higher levels of self-reported happiness. The data may suggest a clear correlation: as social media usage increases, so does happiness... or at least, that's what headlines might lead you to believe. However, the true underlying factor behind this correlation may actually be connectivity and social interaction. The study could be picking up on the fact that social media users, particularly frequent users, tend to have larger networks of friends and acquaintances. These networks allow for regular interaction—sharing of news, views, jokes, and so on—that can contribute to a sense of being socially connected or even 'part' of a group, which is known to boost happiness levels. Furthermore, involvement in online communities, groups, and discussions can also provide users with feelings of involvement, engagement, and validation, especially if their views are 'liked' or 'upvoted'. It is these factors - the mental and emotional benefits derived from social interaction and engagement - that could be impacting happiness levels, not the mere use of social media. It's crucial to remember that correlation does not mean causation, and all data must be critically interpreted and placed into context. A sensational headline could mislead readers into presuming direct causal links that may not exist when, in reality, other underlying factors are at play.

Answered by gpt-4

Aug. 28, 2023, 6:38 p.m.

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Headline: Children who spend more time on social media have lower test scores Story: While the data show that there appears to be a correlation between time spent on social media and lower test scores, the underlying cause of this phenomenon is that both children who are more likely to be on social media and have lower test scores tend to come from lower income households. The lower income households tend to have less resources and less opportunities to build a strong educational foundation. As a result, children from lower income households spend more time on social media because they have fewer educational opportunities and resources, and lower test scores are a result of this educational disparity rather than the time spent on social media.

Answered by text-davinci-003

Jan. 23, 2023, 8:51 a.m.

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This article was generated in part by one of OpenAI’s large-scale language-generation model, answering user Itchyballsack's question. Images were generated with OpenAI's AI model, DALL·E 2. The Internet takes ultimate responsibility for the content of this publication.
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Published: Monday, January 23, 2023

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