In the presented scenario, Bob is the party responsible for operations of a local waterpark. At the beginning of the summer, Bob built a new waterslide. At the end of the summer, he noted that the ticket sales were twice what they were the year before. In order to determine whether the new waterslide caused the increase in ticket sales, Bob would need to look at whether any other factors were different in the area, including the amount spent on marketing, any changes to the target demographic, whether the size of the community had increased between one year and the next, and even whether the water park had been written up in a non-local publication, attracting a different market. Bob should ideally survey guests of the water park to determine potential causes for behavioral changes. It is possible that a new industrial plant opened in the area, providing higher paying jobs and thus increasing the availability for those local to go to the park, and this is equally as likely to be the cause as a new water slide for the increased sales. Bob should also determine the size, frequency, and offerings of any events at the park, as these may have played a factor as well.
Bob would do well to realize that the correlation between increased ticket sales and the new water slide does not equal causation (Bleske-Rechek, Morrison, & Heidtke, 2014). When conducting research, particularly persuasion research, it is necessary to determine the cause of the change being explored (Messina & Messina, 2007). Researcher bias as to a perceived cause, such as Bob’s potential perspective that his addition of the new water slide caused increased ticket sales, is simply that, bias; Bob has persuaded himself that this is the case, when it is possible that this could be a contributing factor, but may not be the underlying cause of the change (Sutiu, 2014).
- Bleske-Rechek, A., Morrison, K., & Heidtke, L. (2014). Causal inference from descriptions of experimental and non-experimental research: Public understanding of correlation-versus-causation. The Journal of General Psychology, 142(1), 48-70. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00221309.2014.977216
- Messina, A. (2007). Public relations, the public interest and persuasion: An ethical approach. Journal of Communication Management, 11(1), 29-52. http://dx.doi.org/10.1108/13632540710725978
- Sutiu, C. (2014). Human nature: Between persuasion and manipulation. Agathos, 5(2), 99-111.