Digital World Research-What It Tells Us About Causation vs. Association

On a fairly regular basis I hear presenters and parents cite research results about technology and 21st Century kids. Often they justify their points by making comments such as “According to research,” or “Research demonstrates that…”

causationassociationSome time ago, for instance, I heard a presenter comment that too much use of digital devices causes students’ lack of concentration, and she cited a university research study. Trouble is, when I subsequently checked out the research, it was based on 25 participants — a small number on which to form a conclusion and make assumptions about a dramatic outcome. After I read the abstract, I discovered that the researchers who conducted the study concluded that the outcome is an association with kids’ lack of concentration and not a cause. The data did not indicate that too much technology causes a lack of concentration.

The difference between association and causation is significant, and parents as well as those of us in the educational technology community need to recognize the difference. Much of our accumulated data about technology outcomes are collected over a short-term, and in many areas we have no data collected long-term. Television statistics are the exception, because after years and years of well-designed, science-based studies, the causal connection between television viewing and childhood behaviors is only now being firmly established. That’s because enough data exist to enable researchers to draw firmer conclusions about how TV screen time affects certain childhood problems.

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TV in Your Child’s Bedroom? Research to Consider

Are you tempted to allow a television in your child’s bedroom?

Recently the journal Preventive Medicine published research that explores the potential impacts of placing a television in a child’s bedroom. By evaluating existing health survey data researchers sought to discover whether certain behavioral and social characteristics were especially associated  with the presence of a television in a child’s bedroom (bedroom television or BTV). The article, TV’s in the Bedrooms of Children: Does it Impact Health and Behavior? (abstract), is not freely available on the web, but it can be purchased or read at a medical library.

To understand more about how BTV use might affect a child’s behavior the researchers used data from the 2007 U.S. National Survey of Children’s Health (NSCH), which gathered information through interviews of 46,687 family with children ages 6-17. As a part of the NSCH, parents were asked to estimate the amount of time their child spends watching television on an average weekday.  Continue reading