Every parent knows: within minutes of arriving at a birthday party even the best-behaved child will be completely feral, because sugar makes kids crazy. All those cakes, lollies and fizzy drinks deliver a massive calorie hit to a tiny body… so kids go beserk. It makes sense.
Except it’s not true.
Give a bunch of excitable kids (the ‘control’ group) as many sugary treats as you can and another bunch (the ‘test’ group) the exact same treats but with zero sugar. Make sure they don’t know (and can’t find out) who got what and see what happens.
It’s a test that’s been conducted hundreds of times, always with the same result: there’s no difference between groups, ever. Which means sugar does not actually cause hyperactivity, even though you’ll usually find both at a kid’s party.
It’s what researchers call ‘correlation’- a reliable association between one thing and another. But that’s not the same as ‘causation’- one thing actually causing the other.
Correlation is not necessarily causation.
So what’s getting the kids so hyped up? Maybe it’s the loud music, jumping castles or video games… or perhaps it’s the races, clowns, balloons, costumes, and presents making them crazy. It could be a whole backyard of unsupervised kids… or, as is often the case, all of the above, all at once.
Of course, we could isolate the true causes by removing each element one at a time until we’d achieved a situation where kids did not go wild.
Except it wouldn’t be much of a party.