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Nursing Research (FBNG) Spring 2012 Dr.

Susan Norwood

Overview of content
What variables are Why this information is important Types of variables Defining variables

Research purposes and variables

Theoretical frameworks and variables Variables and doing a literature review


What are we talking about?

A variable is something that can be different among a studys participants or that can change as a part of a study.
All studies have variables.
There are different types of variables

each is managed differently or has different roles in the research process.

Why this is important

Different types of variables are managed in different

ways -- you need to know what to do with the different variables in your study. Implications for research design (study organization) Implications for data collection (what you will measure) Implications for enhancing study credibility (research control strategies) Implications for needed data analysis procedures

Types of variables
Independent variables
Dependent variables Extraneous variables

Demographic variables

Independent variables
The cause in a presumed cause and effect relationship. The study intervention or treatment The situation that is expected to result in a certain outcome. May be introduced and manipulated by the researcher (experimental variable) May be naturally occurring. May be under the control of the studys participants.

Dependent variables
The effect in a cause and effect relationship. The results or outcome of a treatment or intervention. Differences in amounts or qualities of the dependent variable depend on differences in the independent variable.

Extraneous variables
Variables in a research situation that exert an

unintended effect on the dependent variable. Extraneous variables are not a part of a planned intervention or experiment Function as rival explanations for a study outcome. Can be considered nuisance or noise factors. z z z z z

Extraneous variables, cont

A confounding variable (or confounder) is a special type of extraneous variable. Confounding occurs when the association between an independent and dependent variable (cause and effect relationship) is either partly or completely due to a third factor that is not a part of the experiment. Confounders are related to the independent variable and have a known independent causal effect on the dependent variable.

Extraneous variables, cont

An example of confounding Caffeine consumption during pregnancy

Cigarette smoking

Low birthweight infant

Extraneous variables, cont

The Independent variable is the real cause

Confounder present Confounder absent

Independent variable present



Independent variable absent


Extraneous variables, cont

The confounder is the real cause

Confounder present Confounder absent

Independent variable present



Independent variable absent


Demographic variables
Characteristics of a studys participants. Often function as extraneous variables. Sometimes seem to function as an independent variable.
Important demographic variables age, sex, education, socioeconomic status, race/ethnicity, health status

Researcher roles with different variables -Independent variables must be consistently applied Dependent variables must be carefully measured

Extraneous variables must be recognized and controlled, if possible

Demographic variables must be documented; sometimes are controlled.

Defining variables
All variables need to have both a conceptual definition and an operational definition Conceptual definition the thinking definition of a variable. A description of the concept that is the foundation of the variable; involves using other concepts. The mental picture of the variable that the researcher is using.

Example Pain is conceptualized as a subjective feeling of discomfort.

Defining variables, cont

Operational definition the measurement definition of a variable. A description of how the quality or amount of a variable will be determined for the purposes of the study.

Example Pain will be operationalized as the participants self-report of amount of pain, as reported on a 0 to 10 point scale, where 0 indicates no pain at all and 10 indicates the worst pain imaginable.

Defining variables, cont

Discrete versus continuous variables Discrete variables variables that differ in terms of quality or characteristics. When measured, these variables are placed into categories. Categories represent differences in quality (nominallevel data) or in relative amount (ordinal-level data).

Examples sex, mild/moderate/severe pain

Defining variables, cont

Continuous variables variables that differ in amount. Measurement of these variables reflects how much of the variable is present, in absolute terms. The measurement values fall along a continuum. These variables constitute interval or ratio-level data. Examples pulse rate, temperature, length of hospitalization, number of falls.

Research purposes and variables - All research has extraneous variables! Cause and effectiveness research has independent and

dependent variables. Descriptive research focuses on single research variables. Correlational research focuses on linkages between pairs (or sets) of variables. Predictive research has predictor and outcome variables.

Research purposes and variables, cont

Three conditions for detecting a cause and effect relationship Temporality the independent variable (or how it changes) must take place before the dependent variable (and its changes). Influence the effect of the independent variable on the dependent variable can be detected with statistics, and the probability that the relationship was caused by chance is small. Specificity rival explanations for the observed relationship between the independent and dependent variable can be ruled out.

Theoretical frameworks and variables -A theoretical framework is an explanation of how different concepts are related to one another. The ideas to be tested in a study The hunches and assumptions that guide a study A map of how the different concepts in the research problem are linked to each other Concepts are too abstract to be measured directly so they are translated into variables.

Variables and doing a literature review -Variables can be useful as search terms for doing a literature review ! Intervention of interest (independent variable) Outcome of interest (dependent variable) Population of interest (demographic variables)

Lets practice --

Question #1 -Identify the independent variable in the following research question: How does effectiveness of smoking cessation education for teenage boys differ when it is provided by nurses compared to physicians? a. Smoking cessation education b. Teenage boys c. Type of provider (nurse or physician)

Question #2 -Identify the dependent variable in the following research question: How does gender of health care provider affect compliance with iron supplementation among pregnant women? a. Compliance b. Gender of provider c. Pregnant women

Question #3 -Identify the independent variable in the following research question: Does average hours of sleep per night differ for second term MSN students who are married versus not married? a. Hours of sleep b. Marital status c. Term in MSN program

Question #4 -The purpose of this study is to explore the relationship between teen age girls participation in sports and self esteem. What is the independent variable in this study? a. Participant gender b. Participation in sports c. Self esteem

Question #5 -Which of the following would be operational definition for obesity? a. A body mass Index (BMI) of > 30 b. A condition characterized by excess body fat. c. A risk factor for a variety of health conditions.

Question #6 -Which of the following statements is an example of a conceptual definition? a. Depression is defined as a subjective sensation of pervasive sadness. b. Depression is differentiated as situational or nonspecific. c. Depression is determined by score on the Beck Depression Inventory.

Question #7 -A research report states, Heart rate was recorded as beats per minute counted by palpating the radial pulse for 15 seconds and multiplying by 4. This statement is an example of a(an) a. conceptual definition b. intervention or research protocol c. operational definition.