What is Independent Variable in Psychology

In the experimental method in psychology the  independent variable is the characteristic that is manipulated or altered .

Example of an independent variable in psychology – experimental method

For example, in an experiment looking at the effects of studying on test results, studying would be the independent variable. The researchers are trying to determine whether changing the independent variable (studying) results in significant changes in the dependent variable (the test results).

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Notes on the independent variable

“The independent variables are selected because an experimenter believes that they will cause changes in behavior. Increasing the intensity of a tone should increase the speed at which people respond to the tone. Increasing the number of balls given to a mouse to press the bar should increase the number of times the bar is pressed. When a change in the level (quantity) of an independent variable causes a change in behavior, we can say that the behavior is under the control of the independent variable ”. (Kantowitz, Roediger, and Elmes, 2009)

“It is crucial that the experimental groups and the control groups in a study are very similar, except for the different treatment they receive taking into account the independent variable. This stipulation takes us to the logic that underlies the experimental method. If the two groups are equal in all respects except for the variation created by manipulating the independent variable , any differences between the two groups in the dependent variable  must be due to the manipulation of the independent variable. ”(Weiten, 2013)

Examples of independent variables in Experimental Psychology

  • A researcher wants to determine whether the color of an office has any effect on worker productivity. In one experiment, one group performs a task in a yellow room, while another performs the same task in a blue room. In this example, the color of the office is the independent variable .
  • Researchers want to know if listening to fast-paced music helps runners perform better during a marathon. In one experiment, one group of runners listens to fast-paced music, while another group listens to slow-paced music. In this example, the type of music that runners listen to is the independent variable .
  • Educators are interested in whether participating in after-school math tutoring can increase scores on standardized math exams. In one experiment, one group of students attends an after-school tutoring session twice a week, while another group of students does not receive this additional assistance. In this case, participation in after-school math tutoring is the independent variable .
  • Researchers want to determine whether a new type of treatment will lead to a reduction in anxiety for patients suffering from social phobia . In one experiment, some volunteers receive the new treatment, another group receives a different treatment, and a third group does not receive any treatment. The independent variable in this example is the type of therapy .


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