When reading articles about new studies, you may see the terms independent and dependent variables used. If you’re not in a field that uses these terms frequently, they may cause some confusion. An independent variable describes a variable whose changes are not affected by any other variable in the study. The dependent variable is the opposite. It is the subject matter being studied, and the other variables in the study cause its changes.
Let’s say that you’re interested in buying some plants and you want to see what type of plant grows the fastest if you give each of them equal amounts of water. In this example, it’s fairly easy to define the independent and dependent variables. First, list the variables in this experiment and then identify those which are independent and those that are dependent. The variables are the type of plant and the height of each plant. Because the amount of water isn’t changing, it isn’t either option.
Now, to determine which of the variables is independent, we must think about which variable is affected by the other variable. The type of plant isn’t affected by the height of each plant, so the plant’s type is the independent variable. This makes the height of the plants the dependent variable because the height does depend on the type of plant.
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