Control variable

For the notion of a controlled variable, see independent variable.

The term control variable has different meanings, depending on the area in which it is used.

Experimental design and data analysis

In the design of experiments and data analysis, control variables are those variables that are not changed throughout the trials in an experiment because the experimenter is not interested in the effect of that variable being changed for that particular experiment. In other words, control variables are extraneous factors, possibly affecting the experiment, that are kept constant so as to minimize their effects on the outcome. An example of a control variable in an experiment might be keeping the pressure constant in an experiment designed to test the effects of temperature on bacterial growth.

Control theory

In control theory, control variables are variables that are input to the control system. Reaction rate is the dependent variable and everything else that can change the reaction rate must be controlled (kept constant) so that you only measure the effects of concentration. Variables that need to be controlled in this case include temperature, catalyst, surface area of solids, and pressures of gases. If not controlled, they complicate the experiment and hence, the result.


In programming, a control variable is a program variable that is used to regulate the flow of control of the program. For example, a loop control variable is used to regulate the number of times the body of a program loop is executed; it is incremented (or decremented when counting down) each time the loop body is executed.

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