Published on April 19, 2021 by Pritha Bhandari. Revised on August 27, 2021.

In research, you frequently investigate causal relationships between variables utilizing experiments or monitorings. For example, you might test whether caffeine boosts rate by offering participants through various doses of caffeine and also then comparing their reaction times.

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An explanatory variable is what you manipulate or observe changes in (e.g., caffeine dose), while a response variable is what alters as an outcome (e.g., reaction times).

The words “explanatory variable” and also “response variable” are often interchangeable via various other terms supplied in research study.

Cause (what changes)Effect (what’s measured)
Independent variableDependent variable
Predictor variableOutcome/criterion variable
Explanatory variableResponse variable


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Explanatory vs response variables

The distinction between explanatory and response variables is simple:

An explanatory variable is the supposed cause, and also it explains the outcomes.A response variable is the intended impact, and also it responds to explanatory variables.

You mean changes in the response variable to happen only after changes in an explanatory variable.

There’s a causal connection in between the variables that might be instraight or direct. In an indirect partnership, an explanatory variable may act on an answer variable with a mediator.

If you’re dealing with a purely correlational relationship, tright here are no explanatory and also response variables. Even if alters in one variable are associated through transforms in an additional, both can be brought about by a constarting variable.

Instances of explanatory and also response variables

In some studies, you’ll have only one explanatory variable and also one response variable, however in even more complex research, you may predict one or even more response variable(s) utilizing several explanatory variables in a model.

Research questionExplanatory variablesResponse variableDoes scholastic inspiration predict performance?Can overconfidence and also danger perception explain financial threat taking behaviors?Does the weather affect the transmission of Covid-19?
Academic motivationGPA
OverconfidenceRisk perceptionInvestment choices
TemperatureHumidity levelsWind speedReproduction prices of Covid-19

Explanatory vs independent variables

Explanatory variables and also independent variables are incredibly comparable, but tright here are subtle distinctions between them.

In research study conmessages, independent variables supposedly aren’t influenced by or dependent on any type of various other variable—they’re manipulated or altered only by researchers. For instance, if you run a managed experiment wbelow you have the right to regulate precisely exactly how much caffeine each participant receives, then caffeine dose is an independent variable.

But periodically, the term “explanatory variable” is preferred over “independent variable”, because in real people contexts, independent variables are often affected by various other variables. That means they’re not truly independent.

Example: Explanatory versus independent variablesYou’re investigating whether sex and also danger perception can describe or predict tension reactions to different instances.

You gather a sample of young adults and also ask them to finish a survey in the lab. They report their threat perceptions of various threatening scenarios while you document their stress reactions physiologically.

In your analyses, you uncover that sex and threat perception are highly associated with each various other. Women are more likely to price cases as riskier than guys.

This means sex and also threat perception are not independent of each other. It’s even more exact to call them explanatory variables for the response variable of stress and anxiety reactivity.You’ll often see the terms “explanatory variable” and “response variable” used in regression analyses, which emphasis on predicting or accounting for transforms in response variables as an outcome of explanatory variables.


Visualizing explanatory and also response variables

The easiest way to visualize the relationship between an explanatory variable and also a solution variable is with a graph.

On graphs, the explanatory variable is traditionally placed on the x-axis, while the response variable is put on the y-axis.

If your response variable is categorical, usage a scatterplot or a line graph.If your explanatory variable is categorical, use a bar graph.

When you have actually just one explanatory variable and one response variable, you’ll collect paired data. This indicates eexceptionally response variable measurement is attached to an explanatory variable value for each unit or participant.

Example: Explanatory and also response variablesYou’re investigating whether there’s a causal connection in between academic motivation and also performance in 200 college students.Your explanatory variable is academic catalyst at the begin of the college year.Your response variable is GPA at the end of the school year.

Academic incentive is assessed using an 8-point range, while GPA have the right to array from 0–4. To visualize your information, you plot academic impetus at the start of the year on the x-axis and also GPA at the finish of the year on the y-axis. Each information point mirrors the paired data of one participant.

From the scatterplot, you can view a clear explanatory connection between scholastic motivation at the begin of the year and GPA at the finish of the year.

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Frequently asked concerns around explanatory and also response variables


The distinction in between explanatory and also response variables is simple:

An explanatory variable is the meant reason, and it explains the outcomes.A response variable is the expected impact, and it responds to various other variables.

The term “explanatory variable” is occasionally desired over “independent variable” because, in real world contexts, independent variables are often influenced by other variables. This suggests they aren’t completely independent.

Multiple independent variables may also be correlated with each various other, so “explanatory variables” is a much more correct term.

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On graphs, the explanatory variable is traditionally put on the x-axis, while the response variable is put on the y-axis.

If your response variable is categorical, use a scatterplot or a line graph.If your explanatory variable is categorical, use a bar graph.