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You are on page 1of 6

**by Laura Lincoln Maitland
**

A large amount of data can be collected in research studies. Psychologists

need to make sense of the data. Qualitative data are frequently changed to

numerical data for ease of handling. Quantitative data already is numerical.

Numbers that are used simply to name something are said to be on a nominal

scale and can be used to count the number of cases. For eample! for a survey!

girls can be designated as "#!" $hereas boys can be designated as "%." &hese

numbers have no intrinsic meaning. Numbers that can be ranked are said to be on

an ordinal scale! and can be put in order. For eample! the highest scorer can be

designated as "#!" the second highest as "%!" the third highest as "'!" etc. &hese

numbers cannot be averaged. Number # could have scored () points higher than %.

Number % may have scored * points higher than '. +f there is a meaningful

difference bet$een each of the numbers! the numbers are said to be on an interval

scale. For eample! the difference bet$een '%, Fahrenheit -F. and *%,F is #),F.

&he difference bet$een /*,F and 0*,F is also #),F. 1o$ever! /*,F is not t$ice as

hot as '%,F. 2hen a meaningful ratio can be made $ith t$o numbers! the numbers

are said to be on a ratio scale. &he key difference bet$een an interval scale and a

ratio scale is that the ratio scale has a real or absolute 3ero point. For quantities of

$eight! volume! and distance! 3ero is a meaningful concept! $hereas the meaning

of ),F is arbitrary.

Statistics is a field that involves the analysis of numerical data about

representative samples of populations.

Descriptive Statistics

Numbers that summari3e a set of research data obtained from a sample are

called descriptive statistics. +n general! descriptive statistics describe sets of

interval or ratio data. After collecting data! psychologists organi3e the data to

create a frequency distribution! an orderly arrangement of scores indicating the

frequency of each score or group of scores. &he data can be pictured as a

histogram4a bar graph from the frequency distribution4or as a frequency

polygon4a line graph that replaces the bars $ith single points and connects the

points $ith a line. 2ith a very large number of data points! the frequency polygon

approaches a smooth curve. Frequency polygraphs are sho$n in Figure /.#.

Measures of Central Tendency

Measures of central tendency describe the average or most typical scores

for a set of research data or distribution. Measures of central tendency include the

mode! median! and mean. &he mode is the most frequently occurring score in a set

of research data. +f t$o scores appear most frequently! the distribution is bimodal5

if three or more scores appear most frequently! the distribution is multimodal. &he

median is the middle score $hen the set of data is ordered by si3e. For an odd

number of scores! the median is the middle one. For an even number of scores! the

median lies half$ay bet$een the t$o middle scores. &he mean is the arithmetic

average of the set of scores. &he mean is determined by adding up all of the

scores! then dividing by the number of scores. For the set of qui3 scores (! /! 0! 0!

0! 6! 6! 7! 7! #)5 the mode is 05 the median is 0.(5 the mean is 0./. &he mode is the

least used measure of central tendency! but can be useful to provide a "quick and

dirty" measure of central tendency especially $hen the set of data has not been

ordered. &he mean is generally the preferred measure of central tendency because

it takes into account the information in all of the data points5 ho$ever! it is very

sensitive to etremes. &he mean is pulled in the direction of etreme data points.

&he advantage of the median is that it is less sensitive to etremes! but it doesn8t

take into account all of the information in the data points. &he mean! mode! and

median turn out to be the same score in symmetrical distributions. &he t$o sides

of the frequency polygon are mirror images as sho$n in Figure /.#a. &he normal

distribution or normal curve is a symmetric! bell9shaped curve that represents

data about ho$ many human characteristics are dispersed in the population.

:istributions $here most of the scores are squee3ed into one end are skeed. A

fe$ of the scores stretch out a$ay from the group like a tail. &he ske$ is named

for the direction of the tail. Figure /.#b pictures a negatively ske$ed distribution!

and Figure /.#c sho$s a positively ske$ed distribution. &he mean is pulled in the

direction of the tails! so the mean is lo$er than the median in a negatively ske$ed

distribution! and higher than the median in a positively ske$ed distribution. +n

very ske$ed distributions! the median is a better measure of central tendency than

the mean.

Measures of !ariability

!ariability describes the spread or dispersion of scores for a set of research

data or distribution. Measures of variability include the range! variance! and

standard deviation. &he range is the largest score minus the smallest score. +t is a

rough measure of dispersion. For the same set of qui3 scores -(! /! 0! 0! 0! 6! 6! 7!

7! #).! the range is (. !ariance and standard deviation "SD# indicate the degree

to $hich scores differ from each other and vary around the mean value for the set.

;ariance and standard deviation indicate both ho$ much scores group together

and ho$ dispersed they are. ;ariance is determined by computing the difference

bet$een each value and the mean! squaring the difference bet$een each value and

the mean -to eliminate negative signs.! summing the squared differences! then

taking the average of the sum of squared differences. &he standard deviation of the

distribution is the square root of the variance. For a different set of qui3 scores -/!

0! 6! 6! 6! 6! 6! 6! 7! #).! the variance is # and the <: is #. <tandard deviation must

fall bet$een ) and half the value of the range. +f the standard deviation approaches

)! scores are very similar to each other and very close to the mean. +f the standard

deviation approaches half the value of the range! scores vary greatly from the

mean. Frequency polygons $ith the same mean and the same range! but a different

standard deviation! that are plotted on the same aes sho$ a difference in

variability by their shapes. &he taller and narro$er frequency polygon sho$s less

variability and has a lo$er standard deviation than the short and $ider one.

<ince you don8t bring a calculator to the eam! you $on8t be required to figure out

variance or standard deviation.

Correlation

<cores can be reported in different $ays. =ne eample is the

standard score or 3 score. <tandard scores enable psychologists to compare

scores that are initially on different scales. For eample! a 3 score of # for

an +Q test might equal ##(! $hile a 3 score of # for the <A& + might equal

/)).&he mean score of a distribution has a standard score of 3ero. A score

that is one standard deviation above the mean has a 3 score of #. A standard

score is computed by subtracting the mean ra$ score of the distribution

from the ra$ score of interest! then dividing the difference by the standard

deviation of the distribution of ra$ scores. Another type of score! the

percentile score! indicates the percentage of scores at or belo$ a particular

score. &hus! if you score at the 7)th percentile! 7)> of the scores are the

same or belo$ yours. Percentile scores vary from # to 77.

A statistical measure of the degree of relatedness or association bet$een

t$o sets of data! X and Y! is called the correlation coefficient. &he correlation

coefficient -r. varies from ?# to @#. =ne indicates a perfect relationship bet$een

the t$o sets of data. +f the correlation coefficient is ?#! that perfect relationship is

inverse5 as one variable increases! the other variable decreases. +f the correlation

coefficient -r. is @#! that perfect relationship is direct5 as one variable increases the

other variable increases! and as one variable decreases! the other variable

decreases. A correlation coefficient -r. of ) indicates no relationship at all bet$een

the t$o variables. As the correlation coefficient approaches ?# or @#! the

relationship bet$een variables gets stronger. Aorrelation coefficients are useful

because they enable psychologists to make predictions about Y $hen they kno$

the value of X and the correlation coefficient. For eample! if r B .7 for scores of

students in an AP Ciology class and for the same students in AP Psychology class!

a student $ho earns an A in biology probably earns an A in psychology! $hereas a

student $ho earns a : in biology probably earns a : in psychology. +f r B .# for

scores of students in an Dnglish class and scores of the same students in AP

Aalculus class! kno$ing the Dnglish grade doesn8t help predict the AP Aalculus

grade.

Correlation does not imply causation. Aorrelation indicates only that there is a

relationship between variables, not how the relationship came about.

&he strength and direction of correlations can be illustrated graphically in

scattergrams or scatterplots in $hich paired E and F scores for each subGect are

plotted as single points on a graph. &he slope of a line that best fits the pattern of

points suggests the degree and direction of the relationship bet$een the t$o

variables. &he slope of the line for a perfect positive correlation is r B @#! as in

Figure /.%a. &he slope of the line for a perfect negative correlation is r B ?#! as in

Figure /.%b. 2here dots are scattered all over the plot and no appropriate line can

be dra$n! r B ) as in Figure /.%c! $hich indicates no relationship bet$een the t$o

sets of data.

$nferential Statistics

+nferential statistics are used to interpret data and dra$ conclusions. &hey

tell psychologists $hether or not they can generali3e from the chosen sample to

the $hole population! if the sample actually represents the population. +nferential

statistics use rules to evaluate the probability that a correlation or a difference

bet$een groups reflects a real relationship and not Gust the operation of chance

factors on the particular sample that $as chosen for study. Statistical significance

"p# is a measure of the likelihood that the difference bet$een groups results from a

real difference bet$een the t$o groups rather than from chance alone. Hesults are

likely to be statistically significant $hen there is a large difference bet$een the

means of the t$o frequency distributions! $hen their standard deviations -<:. are

small! and $hen the samples are large. <ome psychologists consider that results

are significantly different only if the results have less than a # in %) probability of

being caused by chance -p B .)(.. =thers consider that results are significantly

different only if the results have less than a # in #)) probability of being caused by

chance -p I .)#.. &he lo$er the p value! the less likely the results $ere due to

chance. Hesults of research that are statistically significant may be practically

important or trivial. <tatistical significance does not imply that findings are really

important. Meta%analysis provides a $ay of statistically combining the results of

individual research studies to reach an overall conclusion. <cientific conclusions

are al$ays tentative and open to change should better data come along. Jood

psychological research gives us an opportunity to learn the truth.

K Aopyright %))/9%)#% Dducation.com All Hights Heserved.

httpLMM$$$.education.comMstudy9helpMarticleMelementary9statisticsM

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