Home > Uncategorized > Are there benefits to gaining a strong statistical background?

Are there benefits to gaining a strong statistical background?

Hello!  As you may or may not know, this is my first blog in the statistics series.  Today, I shall be discussing whether there are benefits to gaining a strong statistical background.
Of course, as Psychologists we need to have a close and personal relationship with statistics.  Statistics help us to analyse our data.  Statistics help us to understand the results we have collected.  Find out whether our data is even valid, if we found what we thought we’d find and if not, what our data actually shows.  We need to know what kind of data we will be collecting and how to figure out what all the numbers mean.  We need to know about statistics to make any sense of what we find.

Lets think about Asch’s conformity experiment for a minute. For those of you who are unaware of Asch’s experiment, I shall explain a little.

(If you already know about it – feel free to skip over this bit, make some food, stare at facebook waiting for someone to post a status…the usual).

Asch’s experiment, as you may have gathered, is on conformity.  He wanted to know if people would go against what they knew was right if everyone around them agreed on something that was wrong.  He set up an experiment, which participants believed to be a vision test. Participants were placed in a room with a group of confederates (who were basically in on it with Asch and had been told what to do).  The group of people, including the real participant, were shown a series of lines – a different length line every time. The group were asked to match this line to either A, B or C, one of which was the same length.  If I’m not making much sense, here’s a nice picture for all you visual learners out there:

In the picture above, the answer is clearly C. But, the confederates had all been told by Asch to give a wrong answer. So, they may all have answered A.  What Asch wanted to see is if the participant would answer C, because they knew that this was the right answer or whether they would conform to what the rest of the group said, and answer A.

Nearly 75% of participants conformed at least once. In other words, 75% of them gave the wrong answer to ‘fit in’, even though they knew what the correct answer was.

People who stopped paying attention above, now is when I try to make my point.

Even though this is a fascinating piece of research, think about what Asch actually had when he finished collecting his data.  He would have ended up with a whole mess of numbers and  to even make any sense of these numbers, there is a need to know about statistics.

If you want to have a look in a bit more depth about Asch’s study, there’s some information about it here:


and I’m sure a simple google search would provide a wealth of links if you’re really interested.

Having said all this, is just using statistics enough to tell you the whole story? For example, we don’t know what it was that made the participants conform. Also, 75% did conform…but what about the 25% that didn’t? What makes them different?

Can statistics be used and manipulated to look one way, when really they’re not that way at all?

(Any men out there may not be all too interested in this one, but just try to keep focused)

Have a look at this video for Avon’s extra lasting make up:

Make up that stays on all day, looks and feels great??  AND if you look about 14 seconds into the video, it says that 75% of women agree! Great, it must be true then.  But wait…does that say 75% of 52 women agreed?  52?!  So, that means that to have 50% of women agree only 26 women would have to agree?!  Which means that for 75%, only 39 women out of those 52 would have to say they agree with what Avon are claiming.

52 is a TINY sample size to be able to generalize the results to all women!

This is an example of how statistics can be used to ‘trick’ someone.

So, are there benefits to gaining a strong statistical background?  Of course there are,  if we want to conduct research and find things out, we can’t get anywhere without having a knowledge of statistics and how to do things to make sense of our results.  I just think that it’s important to not let it end there.  Find out the full story and make sure the amazing results you’re being shown actually are amazing.

Thanks for reading the ramblings of my inner mind.  Come back next week when I shall be answering that long standing question on everyone’s mind:  Do you need statistics to understand your data?


Categories: Uncategorized
  1. September 30, 2011 at 5:32 pm

    It’s hard to find knowledgeable people on this topic, but you sound like you know what you’re talking about! Thanks

  2. October 5, 2011 at 2:16 pm

    I’ve got to say I really enjoyed this blog. I really liked the fact that you used a formal introduction to introduce the blog and the issues that you were going to address. I also liked the fact that you used both a mix of psychological evidence, and real life evidence to explain yourself in a provoking manner. You also used a great mix of informal language and humour, without losing the intellectual value of your blog. Your example of cosmetics and statistics was a great idea on how to explain the potential deception that statistics have. Another example I came across was http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7X5ESgu21qY where they only used 24 women as a clinical example. How in any sense is that a representation of the female population of any country?
    But yeah, I really enjoyed your blog and can’t wait to read next weeks ^^

  3. October 5, 2011 at 3:38 pm

    I have to agree with ‘psud1a’. Your blog is witty yet informative, and you present the data really well, (the usage of the pictures to illustrate Asch’s study and the Avon clip). One of the best blogs I’ve seen so far on statistics as it’s actually entertaining (!)and easy to understand for those who might not study psychology.

  4. October 5, 2011 at 3:55 pm

    I really enjoyed your blog, i also liked the fact that you talked about a psychological experiment and an advert, it gives a nice range of material for everyone to understand. The blog in general is not too complex and explained easily. One thing i would say to criticize this blog is that it is fairly one sided, maybe another paragraph about how stats are not necessarily always useful in every day life could have been done, but part from that its a very well researched response. Another study with extensive statistics and results you might want to look at is Axelrod’s evolution of cooperation study- http://www.sciencemag.org/content/211/4489/1390.full.pdf which certainly needs a statistical background to grasp thoroughly!

  5. October 6, 2011 at 2:55 pm

    This is a good blog, informative and intersting, but im not here to tell you your doing a job well done so Im not going to waste a comment doing that. You hold a strong argument but you have over looked certain things. Yes, we use statistics to increase our understanding of research and sometimes our methodology can play around with the figures, but should we rely so much on statistics? If we become so dependant on them couldnt we become niave and follow blindly? There have been many times in the past were scientists have used this over dependence of statistics and undertaken scientific misconduct. In the case of Cyril Burts research into the heritability of IQ this lead to the changing of the education system which could have had concequences for many children, even though there is much evidence to suggest that he falsified his data.

  6. October 7, 2011 at 5:46 pm

    Hi there, I really enjoyed reading your blog, it was very informative. In reply to what mballen91 mentioned – about whether or not we should rely so much on statistics – I have to say that I believe statistics are a vital necessity of today’s society. I agree with you that the general public tend to follow like sheep after big brand names because they watched the advert and saw that “99% would recommend the product”, but that’s only because we are presented with the minimal amount of information of the statistics. And let’s be honest, no customer would check the statistics before buying a product. However statistics hold everything together – even Google! – and we should take full advantage of them.

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