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The role of statistics in psychology

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Ciarán Mc Mahon

on 13 September 2010

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Transcript of The role of statistics in psychology

The role of statistics in psychology Ciarán Mc Mahon, B.Sc., Ph.D.
Dublin Business School
September 13th 2010 What is 'psychology'? Probably too big a question to handle here, but we can agree that it involves:
the scientific study of human behaviour, including the mind experiments surveys interviews questionnaires observations tests case studies brain scans And what will we get from all of these things?

... lots and lots of data! This fact leads us to two basic problems in psychology, which statistics can help solve: 1. What do we do with all this information/data? 2. What does all this information/data mean? 1. What to do with all this information? Summarise! average scores make sense find patterns lowest scores highest scores most common All of these types of activities are what is known as Descriptive statistics ... these 'describe' the results of our experiments,
making it easier to see what is happening in a large amount of data However, that's not enough... 2. What does all this information mean? Conclusions! significant differences understand the data probability of the results comparison of results validity judgments reliability Inferential statistics: .. these allow us to make calculations which will tell us if the results that we got can be applied to more people than those that we studied This is important, because we need to know how our results fit into the 'bigger picture' of psychological science Or in other words, if the results from our sample can be generalised to the population at large However, both descriptive and inferential statistics are common in many other sciences The study and use of statistics is, in some ways, much more important in psychology than other sciences Why? Because in psychology we deal with things like: ideas concepts categories attitudes symbols What do all of these things have in common? 1. They are difficult to measure
2. They are difficult to observe Two things which science relies on... In fact, psychology is often accused of being unscientific, because mental phenomena are hard to measure, and hard to observe But... If a psychologist can produce good statistics, perhaps demonstrated in a graph... ... then it becomes easier to relate our results to the bigger picture In effect, statistics is what makes psychology scientific Without statistics, we cannot support theories disconfirm evidence or evaluate treatment test hypotheses
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