Correlational Design in Forensic Psychology Research

Strengths and Limitations of Correlational Design

Correlational designs are actively used in forensic psychology research in order to determine the meaningful relations between different types of variables. Researchers choose the correlational design when it is necessary to find out the presence of relationship between certain factors and persons’ behaviors, but this design is not appropriate to determine the causes of this relationship (Gravetter & Forzano, 2011, p. 347; Moore & Finn, 1986, p. 676). From this point, correlational designs have both strengths and limitations, and the choice of the design depends on the purpose of the research. In order to discuss strengths and limitations of the correlational design in detail, it is necessary to refer to the analysis of the use of this design in two forensic psychology research articles.

In their research, Teplin, Abram, and McClelland focused on finding the relationship between the presence of psychiatric disorders in jail detainees and rate of violent crimes performed by these detainees after the release. The correlational study based on the use of interviews with male jail detainees demonstrated that there was no relationship between the presence of psychiatric disorders and increases in violent crimes, in which former criminals were involved (Teplin, Abram, & McClelland, 1994, p. 337). It is possible to state that the researchers chose the correlational design effectively because they needed to examine the relationship between mental disorders and orientation to committing violent crimes after the release from the jail. The strengths are in the possibility to use the correlational design for predicting the presence or absence of the relationship (Crighton & Towl, 2015, p. 222). Thus, the researchers were interested in measuring the hypothesis about the relationship between the mental disorders and orientation to violent crimes. The limitations were observed only with the focus on impossibility to explain why different psychiatric disorders were correlated with similar behaviors after the release.

The research by Colins, Vermeiren, Schuyten, and Broekaert presents the results of the study directed to examine the relationship between psychiatric disorders and different types of offending. The researchers examined the prevalence data and classified the young male participants according to the disorders and types of offending (Colins, Vermeiren, Schuyten, & Broekaert, 2009, p. 33). Versatile, property, and violent offenders were determined. Colins et al. (2009) found that there was a relationship between the psychiatric disorders and a type of offending because different levels of disorders were associated with different crimes. However, in spite of the effectiveness of the correlational study to describe and measure the relationship, this design was not appropriate to explain why a high level of depression was correlated with the property offenders in contrast to versatile and violent offenders (Gravetter & Forzano, 2011, p. 348). In addition, the design was not appropriate to support the direction in terms of the correlation between the concrete mental disorder and concrete type of offending because of the necessity to focus on a variety of factors to explain the participants’ behaviors from the long-term perspective.

Correlational designs are strong when it is important to state that the relationship between variables exists. Nevertheless, the limitations include the impossibility to explain the causes of the observed dependencies and the restricted practical utility of the provided findings. Still, the researches based on the correlational designs are effective to be used for prediction of the relationship between factors and phenomena.


Colins, O., Vermeiren, R., Schuyten, G., & Broekaert, E. (2009). Psychiatric disorders in property, violent, and versatile offending detained male adolescents. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 79(1), 31-38.

Crighton, D., & Towl, G. (2015). Forensic psychology. New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons.

Gravetter, F., & Forzano, L. (2011). Research methods for the behavioral sciences. New York, NY: Cengage Learning.

Moore, L., & Finn, P. E. (1986). Forensic psychology: An empirical review of experimental research. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 42(4), 675–679.

Teplin, L., Abram, K. M., & McClelland, G. M. (1994). Does psychiatric disorder predict violent crime among released jail detainees? A six-year longitudinal study. American Psychologist, 49(4), 335-342.

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