Correlation Does Not Equal Causation

November 26, 2017

As most who read this Blog know I turn to peer-reviewed research to help guide us specific to some of the tech challenges that tweens, teens, and adults face, especially, when it comes to the cause and effect to the human element. Very recently a Ph.D. by the name of Jean Twenge wrote an article that can be located here: It is not surprising that many news agencies have taken the work of Dr. Twenge, and are running with it given Dr. Twenge’s very controversial conclusions. Media outlets love controversy because it increases readership, which equals increased advertising revenues. In fact, there are social media safety experts advising parents on their social media feeds, that this article is an “important read” for parents. I wonder how many of these experts have actually read Dr. Twenge’s research, rather than what has been posted in the media, I know I have.

I could imagine that any parent, after reading Dr. Twenge’s article, would immediately make a move to remove all tech from their kids believing that the information contained in this article must be accurate, given that it was written by a Ph.D. academic. Well….. maybe not! In science and medicine, there is a saying, “correlation does not equal causation.” This fallacy is also known as cum hoc ergo propter hoc, Latin for “with this, therefore because of this,”

Dr. Twenge’s controversial research has been challenged extensively by many others Ph.D’s. that come from the multidisciplinary fields of cognitive and affective sciences including psychology and sociology. In fact, one of these Ph.D’s. is Sarah Rose Cavanagh, an assistant professor of Psychology and Director of the Laboratory for Cognitive and Affective Sciences.

Dr Cavanagh wrote an excellent rebuttal paper in the magazine Psychology today, that can be located here: As you will read, Dr. Cavanagh actually supports her expert opinion with other well “respected” researchers. In fact, it is hard to find any Ph.D. experts, outside of Dr. Twenge’s cohort, that agree with her findings.

A part of digital literacy that we preach is being more critical about what one reads online. As social media safety experts, we need to be more critical about what we share with parents and ensure that we do our due diligence before we share such information. Personally, I do believe that the article by Dr. Twenge is only going to cause parents to adopt a hyper-vigilant approach to tech and their kids, when a more balanced approach, based upon good peer-reviewed research, is what is needed.

For those looking for the digital bogy man, Dr. Twenge’s research will support your beliefs. For those who are looking for scientifically balanced, peer-reviewed research surrounding the cause and effect of technology to us humans, Dr. Cavanagh thoughts and research, which are supported by many other Ph.D. experts in this area of study, should be your guide!

Digital Food For Thought


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