12 Advantages and Disadvantages of Correlational Research Studies

A correlational research study uses the non-experimental method where the measurement of two variables occurs. It is up to the individuals conducting the study to assess and understand the statistical relationship between them without having extraneous influences occur.

It’s like when a child hears the music playing from an ice cream truck. There is a direct relationship between the sound heard and how far away the vehicle is from their current location. By understanding the commonality of the data in that situation, the child knows whether to grab their money, ask their parents for some, or not to bother making an effort.

The advantages and disadvantages of a correlational research study help us to look for variables that seem to interact with each other. If you see one of those variables changing, then you have an idea of how the other is going to change.

List of the Advantages of a Correlational Research Study

1. Neither variable goes through a manipulative process.
When you choose a correlational research study to review variables, then neither one goes through a manipulative process. It is the distinctive feature of this method. Researchers could observe participants in a public setting or a closed environment because it doesn’t matter where or how the variables get measured.

2. Two different data collection methods are available with correlational research.
The data gathered from a correlational research study can come from either naturalistic observation or archival data. The first option is a type of field research where those responsible for the work might observe situations in real-life scenarios as unobtrusively as possible. When people know that they are under observation, then there is a significant risk that their behaviors will change. If the participants remain anonymous with the work conducted in a public setting, then it is an ethical approach.

The second option relies on the use of collected data from previous research efforts. The information is straightforward, giving researchers access to specific points that can lead to a greater understanding of the potential variables involved in each situation.

3. The results from correlational research are more applicable.
Because a correlational research study occurs in real-life situations, the data that gets gathered from this work is typically more applicable to everyday encounters. You don’t need to attempt to extrapolate the findings from a laboratory setting into something that works into the routine of the average person.

Even if the researchers don’t know the individuals or situations being studied with correlational research, their findings are still applicable to the scenarios under review.

4. It offers a beneficial starting position for research.
When a correlational research study begins to look at specific relationships or phenomena to see if connections are present, then the variables provide an excellent starting position to begin the review. Each variable creates a unique data set that can work in several different ways with known and unknown relationships.

It is not unusual for researchers to create new opportunities for future studies because of the amount of data that becomes available. These studies provide a lot more information to review than a simple experiment would offer in most situations.

5. Researchers can determine the direction and strength of each relationship.
The variables that get studied with correlational research help us to find the direction and strength of each relationship. This advantage makes it possible to narrow the findings in future studies as needed to determine causation experimentally as needed. It can be an experiential process that involves direct observation or occur through data insights with an additional review.

This advantage creates the possibility of discovering new relationships existing between phenomena that don’t seem to have existing connections. That process helps us to discover more about the world and specific situations than if other research methods were used.

6. A survey method is helpful in correlational research.
Some correlational research study methods can benefit from the use of surveys to collect information on a specific topic. Since the variables being studied still aren’t under the control of the researchers, then it can reveal the presence of a relationship between them. That makes it fast, easy, and affordable to start looking for potential outcomes and results when studying specific contact points.

7. The results of a correlational research study are easy to classify.
A correlational research study uses what is called the “correlation coefficient” to measure the strength of the relationship between the variables. It can range from 1.00 to -1.00. These figures create three potential definition outcomes for the work being performed.

  • A positive correlation shows that both variables increase or decrease simultaneously. A coefficient that approaches 1.00 indicates the strongest correlation for this result.
  • A negative correlation indicates that when one variable increases, the other will decrease. When the coefficient approaches -1.00, then this is the expected result.
  • If the coefficient is zero, then this result indicates that there is no correlation between the two variables.

List of the Disadvantages of a Correlational Research Study

1. Correlational research only uncovers relationships.
The benefit of a correlational research study is that it can uncover relationships that may have not been previously known. What it does not provide is a conclusive reason for why that connection exists in the first place. All we can do with the information is study the connections between phenomena to see how each one influences the other. Knowing that one change can create additional alternations can be beneficial when looking for unique outcomes, but it fails to answer the question of “why” that is sometimes necessary for research.

Correlation does not equate to causation when using this study method.

2. It won’t determine what variables have the most influence.
A correlational research study can help to determine the connections that variables share with a specific phenomenon. What this work cannot produce is information regarding which variable is responsible for influencing the other. You might know that households with more wealth also have higher education levels, but you can’t determine if it is the education that leads to additional wealth.

That means the correlation for a specific variable must be assumed or sent to a different research method to collect the necessary data.

3. Correlational research can be a time-consuming process.
Although the benefits of a correlational research study can be tremendous, it can also be expensive and time-consuming to achieve an outcome. The only way to collect data is through direct interactions or observation of the variables in question. That means numerous scenarios must receive a thorough look before it is possible to determine an accurate coefficient. The naturalistic observation method sees this disadvantage most often, but it can apply to every effort in this category.

4. Extraneous variables might interfere with the information.
There is no guarantee that additional influences will stay out of the correlational research study. It is possible for unique outcomes to exist that interfere with the work. Going back to the example of the child and the ice cream truck, the presence of heavy winds might make it seem like the vehicle is closer or further away than it actually is.

Another issue that fits into this disadvantage involves the awareness of the subjects of an observer. People act different when they know that someone is watching, so it can skew the results in either direction. This issue even impacts surveys because some people try to provide or deny data to create specific outcomes.

5. Outcomes can be adversely impacted by the quality of the work.
The quality of the work performed during a correlational research study will determine the usefulness of the data gathered. If the survey questions do not provide enough of a trigger to generate information, then the time and money spent on the effort gets wasted. Even when there is some flexibility in the structure of the study, a lack of representation in the selected sample can produce inferior results that could lead researchers down an incorrect path of study.


Most correlational research studies are found in the field of psychology. It’s treated as a preliminary way to gather information about a specific topic or situation where experimentation isn’t possible for some reason. Although it typically looks at two variables to determine if a coefficient exists, it can also look at more in some relationships.

The variables themselves are not under the control of the researchers, which is why this method of study can be problematic at times. It is also the reason why it can be a popular way to look at specific data points.

Although the advantages and disadvantages of a correlational research study won’t reveal the reason why relationships exist, it can at least determine their existence. That’s why it is often considered a worthwhile investment, even when there are sometimes cheaper methods to use.

Blog Post Author Credentials
Louise Gaille is the author of this post. She received her B.A. in Economics from the University of Washington. In addition to being a seasoned writer, Louise has almost a decade of experience in Banking and Finance. If you have any suggestions on how to make this post better, then go here to contact our team.