What Is the Difference Between Independent and Dependent Variables?

Independent vs Dependent Variables

function of time
This graph show speed as a function of time. Urocyon / Wikimedia Commons / Public Fomain

The two main variables in an experiment are the independent and dependent variable.

An independent variable is the variable that is changed or controlled in a scientific experiment to test the effects on the dependent variable.

A dependent variable is the variable being tested and measured in a scientific experiment.

The dependent variable is 'dependent' on the independent variable. As the experimenter changes the independent variable, the effect on the dependent variable is observed and recorded.

For example, a scientist wants to see if the brightness of light has any effect on a moth being attracted to the light. The brightness of the light is controlled by the scientist. This would be the independent variable. How the moth reacts to the different light levels (distance to light source) would be the dependent variable.

The independent and dependent variables may be viewed in terms of cause and effect. If the independent variable is changed, then an effect is seen in the dependent variable. Remember, the values of both variables may change in an experiment and are recorded. The difference is that the value of the independent variable is controlled by the experimenter, while the value of the dependent variable only changes in response to the independent variable.

When results are plotted in graphs, the convention is to use the independent variable as the x-axis and the dependent variable as the y-axis.

The DRY MIX acronym can help keep the variables straight:

D is the dependent variable
R is the responding variable
Y is the axis on which the dependent or responding variable is graphed (the vertical axis)

M is the manipulated variable or the one that is changed in an experiment
I is the independent variable
X is the axis on which the independent or manipulated variable is graphed (the horizontal axis)