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in an experiment which variable do you change

in an experiment which variable do you change

Hi there. In this post on Solsarin we’ll find in an experiment which variable do you change . Thanks for being with us. Let’s find the answer together.

What are Variables?

Scientists try to figure out how the natural world works. In doing so, they use experiments to search for cause and effect relationships. Cause and effect relationships explain why things happen and allow you to reliably predict what will happen if you do something. In other words, scientists design an experiment so that they can observe or measure if changes to one thing cause something else to vary in a repeatable way.

The things that are changing in an experiment are called variables. A variable is any factor, trait, or condition that can exist in differing amounts or types. An experiment usually has three kinds of variables: independent, dependent, and controlled.

in an experiment which variable do you change
in an experiment which variable do you change

What is an Independent Variable?

The independent variable is the one that is changed by the scientist. Why just one? Well, if you changed more than one variable it would be hard to figure out which change is causing what you observe. For example, what if our scientific question was: “How does the size of a dog affect how much food it eats?”; then,

during your feeding experiments you changed both the size of the dog and the time of day the dogs were fed. The data might get a bit confusing— did the larger dog eat less food than the smaller dog because of his size or because it was the middle of the day and dogs prefer to eat more in the morning?

Sometimes it is impossible to just change one variable, and in those cases, scientists rely on more-complicated mathematical analysis and additional experiments to try to figure out what is going on. Older students are invited to read more about that in our Experimental Design for Advanced Science Projects page.

To be clear though, for a science fair, it is usually wise to have only one independent variable at a time. If you are new to doing science projects and want to know the effect of changing multiple variables, do multiple tests where you focus on one independent variable at a time.

What is a Dependent Variable?

The dependent variables are the things that the scientist focuses his or her observations on to see how they respond to the change made to the independent variable. In our dog example, the dependent variable is how much the dogs eat. This is what we are observing and measuring.

It is called the “dependent” variable because we are trying to figure out whether its value depends on the value of the independent variable. If there is a direct link between the two types of variables (independent and dependent) then you may be uncovering a cause and effect relationship. The number of dependent variables in an experiment varies, but there can be more than one.

in an experiment which variable do you change
in an experiment which variable do you change

What is a Control Variable?

Experiments also have controlled variables. Controlled variables are quantities that a scientist wants to remain constant, and she or he must observe them as carefully as the dependent variables. For example, in the dog experiment example, you would need to control how hungry the dogs are at the start of the experiment, the type of food you are feeding them, and whether the food was a type that they liked. Why?

If you did not, then other explanations could be given for differences you observe in how much they eat. For instance, maybe the little dog eats more because it is hungrier that day, maybe the big dog does not like the dog food offered, or maybe all dogs will eat more wet dog food than dry dog food.

So, you should keep all the other variables the same (you control them) so that you can see only the effect of the one variable (the independent variable) that you are trying to test. Similar to our example, most experiments have more than one controlled variable. Some people refer to controlled variables as “constant variables.”

In the best experiments, the scientist must be able to measure the values for each variable. Weight or mass is an example of a variable that is very easy to measure. However, imagine trying to do an experiment where one of the variables is love. There is no such thing as a “love-meter.”

You might have a belief that someone is in love, but you cannot really be sure, and you would probably have friends that do not agree with you. So, love is not measurable in a scientific sense; therefore, it would be a poor variable to use in an experiment.

in an experiment which variable do you change
The factors or conditions that will change as a result of the independent variable. The factors that you measure or observe as data. There can be one or more dependent variables in an experiment.
  • Extraneous variable: An extraneous variable is any extra factor that may influence the outcome of an experiment, even though it is not the focus of the experiment. Ideally, these variables won’t affect the conclusions drawn from the results as a careful experimental design should equally spread influence across your test conditions and stimuli.
  • Nevertheless, extraneous variables should always be considered and controlled when possible as they may introduce unwanted variation in your data. In this case, you need to tweak your design and procedure to be able to keep the variation constant or find a strategy to monitor its influence (constant or controlled variables). All experiments have extraneous variables. Here are some examples of different types of extraneous variables:

aspects of the environment where the data collection will take place, e.g., room temperature, background noise level, light levels;

differences in participant characteristics (participant variables);

test operator, or experimenter behavior during the test, i.e., their instructions to the test participants are not consistent or they give unintentional clues of the goal of the experiment to the participants.

More posts if you are interested:

Controlled (or constant) variables: Are extraneous variables that you manage to keep constant or controlled for during the course of the experiment, as they may have an effect on your dependent variables as well.

Participant variables: Participant variables can be defined as the differing individual characteristics that may impact how a participant responds in an experiment. Examples of participant variables include gender, age, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, literacy status, mood, clinical diagnosis etc.

Stimulus variables: These are specific features of your stimulus or group of stimuli that are part of the context in which the behavior occurs. These are often an expression of or a subset of your independent variables and covariates. Examples include the number of items, item category, stimulus crowdedness, color, brightness, contrast, etc.

in an experiment which variable do you change
in an experiment which variable do you change

Other Types of Variables

While the big three are typically what you think about when it comes to an experiment, they are not the only variables. However, the other variables that can affect a scientific experiment are a bit harder to explain.

Intervening Variables

When it comes to intervening variables, they’re hard to define because they aren’t as straightforward as dependent, independent, and controlled variables. These variables are abstract correlations between your dependent and independent variables you can’t observe in research. For example:

  • In an experiment, you find a link between having a low income and having higher heart disease rates. However, being poor doesn’t cause heart disease. Instead, an intervening variable, such as not being able to get preventative screenings or having less access to healthy foods, could be the cause.

Extraneous Variables

There are some variables you aren’t going to look at in your study called the extraneous variables. They aren’t the independent variables, but they are uncontrolled variables that might cause unintended changes to your results.

  • If you are studying the growth of plants in a particular soil, you need to take into account the water you add or fertilizer used in the soil or other variables that could affect the growth.


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