Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Correlation & Causation

"Correlation doesn't imply causation, but it does waggle its eyebrows suggestively and gesture furtively while mouthing 'look over there.'
― Randall Munroe

There are certain places where childhood memories are created. Common places include school, the playground, home, camp and a friend’s house. Many of my own childhood memories come from these places as well. A few of my most memorable memories happened in a building which is no longer existent, in the Flushing area of Queens. This building was the baseball stadium known as Shea Stadium, former home of the New York Mets.

The following story is one of my many memories from that stadium:

The Mets are winning by two in a “must win game”. The Mets bring in their best relief pitcher to start the 9th inning. I am sitting in the stands holding a pencil, keeping score with a scorecard. The first opposing batter hits a homerun. Now the lead is down to one. The following batter reaches hits a single. The potential tying run is on base and there are still no outs. The tension throughout the stadium increases tenfold. I’m getting nervous that the Mets might lose this game. I immediately put down the pencil that I’m using and start using the pencil that I used when the Mets scored their runs earlier. Within moments of my switching pencils the opposing runner gets thrown out. The Mets then quickly get the next two outs and they win the game.

All because I switched my pencil.

That’s how the mind of a ten year old works.

But this type of thinking isn’t exclusive to children. People of all ages are constantly falling into this trap. This is not just the trap of believing in “lucky charms”, but the erroneous conviction that a correlation implies causation. i.e. That since I switch my pencil and the Mets immediately got the 3 outs that they needed, it means that my switching pencils CAUSED the Mets to get those 3 outs.

A Correlation Does NOT Imply Causation!

There are many other examples of this principle. One lesson that I would like to share from this principle is the need to speak with your children and not assume that you know what is the cause of their difficulty.

For example: Dana has been an A student the past 2 years when she had the privilege in being in Mr. Howard’s class. Mr. Howard was an excellent teacher who was both well liked and outstanding at his job. This year with a new teacher Dana is barely passing. They see that she has zero motivation. Her parents believe that this is a direct result of having a new teacher, but it is actually something else that is causing Dana’s lack of motivation.

The parent’s thought process is quite simple and quite logical. If Dana was successful and motivated when she had Mr. Howard, it must be the new teacher that is causing the lower grades and lack of motivation.

This line of thinking is only successful when there are only 2 variables. In life, however, there are many variables, some of which parents (and others) are blind to.

When you don’t have an open line of communication with your child, you end up being forced to make assumptions, and not all of your assumptions will be accurate.

Make sure there is an open line of communication with your child. Build a “communication safe-zone” to enable children to properly and safely share information. If you feel that your child is uncomfortable sharing information with you, try to connect them with someone whom they will feel comfortable sharing the information with.

Yisroel Picker is a Social Worker who lives in Jerusalem. He has a private practice which specializes in working with people of all ages helping them understand their own thought processes, enabling them to improve their level of functioning, awareness, social skills and more. He also lectures on the topics of communication and child safety.  
You can email Yisroel at yisroel@ympicker.com
Follow Yisroel on LinkedIn here

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