Confusing Correlation with Causation on GMAT Critical Reasoning

Confusing Correlation with Causation on CR

In GMAT critical reasoning, there are several different types of questions that you will encounter. In this short article, we will cover the characteristics of questions involving the misidentification of correlation and causationand how to solve them.

Confusion between correlation and causation

This error is said to occur when an argument confuses a “correlation” or “coincidence” with “causation”; in other words, this fallacy is the result of assuming the existence of a cause-effect relationship where there is none.

Please take a look at the following example and try figuring it out before reading further.

Example 1: Many people who use oil heaters are thin. Therefore, oil heaters lead to weight loss.

The problem here is that there is no logical cause-effect relationship between people using oil heaters and being thin. These are simply two correlated, or coincidental, factors.

Let us take a look at another example:

Once again, it is clear that there is no logical cause-effect relationship between the two elements mentioned here – Grandma sneezing and a tornado hitting Nebraska.

Now, let’s take a look at a more GMAT-like example. Please try to solve it before reading further

Example 3: In the first quarter of last year, the price of crude oil rose by 20%. During the same period, the Japanese yen dipped 10% against the US dollar. The increase in the price of crude oil led to a weaker yen.

A serious flaw in the reasoning of the argument is that…?

Here, we have a dialogue followed by a question stem.

Step 1 – Read the question stem.
Step 2 – Read the argument.
Step 3 – Come up with a broad expectation from the correct answer choice.

Here, a clear expectation can be that the passage concludes that anger is the “cause” and neurological condition is the “effect”, whereas it is practically possible that the neurological conditions are the “cause” and anger is the “effect”.

Take a look at the correct answer choice

Option 1: It fails to establish a causal connection between the two incidences it describes.

The flaw in this passage is clearly that the passage does not in any way establish that the price of crude oil and the strength of the Japanese yen are in any way related. This is definitely the correct answer choice.

This article has deliberately been kept brief; for a more elaborate explanation, please refer to the Experts’ Global Stage One Critical Reasoning videos.