Antecedent Variable: Definition & Examples

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An antecedent variable (or antecedent confounding variable) happens before the independent variable and dependent variable. It may affect the relationship between the two variables, or it might just affect the two variables separately, without their being a direct relationship between the IV and DV (this is called a spurious relationship).

Examples of Antecedent Variable

  1. A researcher wishes to study why some people volunteer and some do not. They hypothesize that people with more education (the antecedent variable) are more likely to know about the existence of volunteer opportunities.
  2. A study takes a look at how corporate campaign contributions affect politicians’ policy decisions. A large corporate donation would only have an effect if the politician agreed with the corporation’s policy (for example, a donation from a far left corporation would be much more likely to be accepted by those politicians on the left), so a politician’s views are an antecedent variable.

Similar Variables

Similar variables to antecedent variables (AV) include extraneous variables and intervening variables. Although they all have an effect on the independent variable (IV) – dependent variable (DV) relationship, they effect the variables at different stages of analysis:

  • Antecedent variables happen before the IV and the DV. The variable does not directly affect the IV/DV relationship (as in cause and effect); it just precedes that relationship in time.
  • Extraneous variables affect both the IV and DV.
  • Intervening variables intervene between the IV and DV.

When analyzing a study with an antecedent variable, the first step is to control for those variables; When that happens, the relationship between the IV and DV should remain the same. However, when you control for the independent variable, the relationship between the AV and DV no longer exists.


Mark, R. (1996). Research Made Simple: A Handbook for Social Workers. SAGE.
Roy, M. & Corbett, M. (2008). Research Methods in Political Science: An Introduction. Cengage.

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