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Quantitative Research Part I.

Basic Terms and Concepts

Ann de Peyster, PhD

Quantitative Methods

A definition

A survey or experiment that provides as output a quantitative or numeric description of some fraction of the population, called the sample.

Importance-of-Statistics Disclaimer
A working knowledge of statistics is absolutely essential to being a successful quantitative methods researcher. Unfortunately, time does not permit much coverage of statistics within this introductory overview research class.

Terms and Concepts

Study purpose, objectives/aims, research questions, and hypotheses (review these and other terms in Dr. dePs first Ppt) Quantitative/qualitative research and data Causal relationships vs. associations Groups: study group or experimental group, control group, group assignment Variables: dependent, independent Independence/independent samples Validity Confounders Bias Hypothesis testing statistics, variability, statistical significance 4

Causal relationships vs. associations

In research involving human subjects, when the condition you are studying is correlated with a risk factor or other variable, saying A is associated with B is usually preferable to saying A causes B. Why? Hint:

Study or experimental group: receiving the medication or experiencing the other factor(s) under study Control group: a group of subjects closely resembling the treatment group in many demographic variables but not receiving the medication or experiencing the other factor(s) under study and thereby serving as a comparison group. Group assignment: Random or based on pre-determined selection criteria (more on this later in Part II)

Variables dependent and independent

In an experiment, the independent variable is the variable that is varied or manipulated by the researcher, and the dependent variable is the response that is measured. Maybe not intuitive?

Independent = Remember: I/you (the experimenter) controls Dependent = depends on the independent variable

Examples of independent and dependent variables

( 2 and 3 adapted from:

The following are hypotheses for two different studies: 1. Hispanic women living in close proximity to agricultural land (<10 mi) will have statistically higher rates of adverse pregnancy outcomes than women of otherwise similar SES but residing at least 10 miles from agricultural land. IV: Proximity of residence to land used for agricultural purposes. DV: Pregnancy outcomes. 2. "There will be a statistically significant difference in graduation rates of college seniors who participate in an intensive healthy-behaviors study program as opposed to college seniors who do not participate in this intensive study program." IV: Participation in intensive study program. DV: Graduation rates.

Examples, continued
The following is a description of a study: 3. A director of residential living on a large university campus is concerned about the large turnover rate in resident assistants (RAs). In recent years many RAs have left their positions before completing even 1 year in their assignments. The director wants to identify the environmental health factors that predict longevity of an RA in their position, defined as continuing in the position a minimum of 2 years. The director decides to assess the following variables as possible contributors to longevity in the position: safety, ease and general comfort of the built environment of the residence (e.g., dark stair wells or elevators?); any evidence of sick building syndrome (e.g., number of student residents and RAs experiencing headaches or flu-like symptoms during the year in each residence); tobacco smoke permeating residence halls caused by students smoking illegally in their rooms. IVs: All environmental variables listed above that the director/experimenter has decided to include in this study. DV: RA commitment to position or not (i.e., continuing in position for 2 years or not continuing).

Independence, independent samples

If you survey a person (e.g, by interview) about exposure to a chemical ten times on different days in one month are these samples independent? If you measure biological samples (e.g, blood or other body fluids) from a single person ten times in one month are these samples independent?


Independence, independent samples

If you survey ten people (e.g, by interview) once each in one month are these samples independent? If you take biological samples (e.g, blood or other body fluids) from ten different people once each in one month are these samples independent? Suppose two very different types of data variables are measured once in the same person (e.g., survey response and blood values) are those samples independent of each other? Could these be correlated?

Validity (of a study)

Conclusions drawn from analyzing research data are only acceptable to the degree to which they are determined to be valid (=relevant, meaningful, justifiable, believable)


Confounders (confound~confuse)
A confounder is a factor that is linked to the variable or outcome of interest and is unevenly distributed between the study groups. Examples of confounding:

1. Researchers completely forget to ask about possible job-related exposures to mercury in a study investigating correlation of mercury levels in hair with consumption of large predator fish. (Occupational exposure to mercury should be acknowledged as a possible confounder.)

Examples of confounding, continued

2. In a childhood asthma intervention study conducted at a pre-school, the researchers know parental smoking may be confounder so they also document smoking practices of the parents. They find the amount of cigarettes and cigars smoked at home by the intervention group parents is similar to parents of the control group not receiving the intervention.

These researchers are lucky! They made an effort to rule out smoking as a potential confounder in this experiment. In this case they were successful. But if the distribution of smoking was different in the two groups, then the research report should state that different tobacco smoking habits by the parents of the two groups could confound interpretation of results.)

Confounding and spurious correlations (=false or inappropriate)

A study finds that the numbers of drinks men consume in sleazy bars is positively correlated with their incidence of lung cancer does drinking alcohol cause lung cancer?

A study finds that freshman women are more beautiful than seniors is education debeautifying?


Bias: systematic error in an estimate or inference

(Shadish, Cook and Cambell, 2002, Experimental and Quasi-Experimenal Designs)

Selection biases, which may result in the subjects in the sample being unrepresentative of the population of interest Measurement biases, which include issues related to how the outcome of interest was measured Intervention (exposure) biases, which involve differences in how the treatment or intervention was carried out, or how subjects were exposed to the factor of interest
Publication bias: tendency for researchers and reviewers to not publish nonsignificant findings

Bias, continued

Obvious examples of potential for bias in research that can easily be avoided:

Volunteers willing to take your 100-page survey probably have much more leisure time than your average person in the general population of interest being studied (=selection bias) Jargon or other rarely-used words used in your survey may not have been completely understood by the less educated or inexperienced study subjects, and the researchers only discover this after the study ends (=measurement bias) Researcher providing an educational intervention by conversing with men and women in a study is instinctively more relaxed and friendly toward women interviewees and may not be aware of this (=intervention bias)


Importance of Statistics Disclaimer

A working knowledge of statistics is absolutely essential to being a successful researcher. Unfortunately, time does not permit more coverage of statistics now within this introductory overview research class.


Hypothesis testing statistics are often used to

determine differences between experimental groups

Rock bottom basics!

When the means of two groups (e.g., experimental vs. control) are significantly different