Monthly Archives: September 2011

Are there benefits to creating a strong statistical background in psychology?

I’m guessing that, like me, a lot of you didn’t realise just how much statistics would be involved in your psychology degree. However, as I’ve discovered, there are a lot of benefits that come from using statistics; and not just in psychology.

If you sit and think about it we are actually surrounded by statistics in everyday life. After a long day of lectures how many of us turn on the television and hear ‘27% of children are now overweight’# or that ‘the inflation rate year over year was 4.5257%’##? We can see from the first example that the media uses statistics as a way of shocking people into changing their lifestyles. Such a high statistic suggests to viewers that they seriously need to do something drastic to change their lifestyles. The second example shows us that statistics in the news are also used to give general information to the public. We rarely see all of the calculations that go on behind the scenes and I guess many of us don’t really think about that when we’re watching television.

I guess if I had said the word statistics to you a few years ago you would have instantly thought maths, am I right? I think this is a mistake that a lot of people make. But in fact statistics can be used in a range of subjects and places, including the advertising industry. You may not consciously realise it but many choices you make about which make-up to buy or which moisturiser to use are strongly influenced by statistics. For example a lot of make-up companies advertise their products on the television, online or in magazines. These adverts usually include tempting statistics such as; ‘new second skin foundation from Maxfactor 3 out of 4 women would recommend it’###. The small print often displayed at the bottom of adverts making claims like this will usually display some sort of statistical data from consumer surveys; the information usually contains the amount of people surveyed. In this instance it is good to create a strong statistical background as it helps to gain the attention of the audience and also to show consumers that their product is better than competitors.

So, moving on, why do we need a strong statistical background in psychology? For starters; when conducting research it is important to be objective. Empirical studies using quantitative methods are a useful tool in psychology as they help to produce objective data (always good for those who believe that psychology should be classed as a science). From the data collected various statistical tests can be performed to see if a significant result has been produced, and with more in depth statistical results we can see exactly how significant a result is. For example some people like to think that males are more intelligent than females (particularly in the past). However studies have shown that there is not a significant difference in IQ. The statistical analysis of results did however suggest that males and females generally tend to excel in different areas. Women are more likely to excel in semantic and phonological tasks where are men are more likely to do better in mathematical and scientific tasks*. As you can see, not only does statistics confirm that males are not more clever than females, it also helps towards developing the education system to ensure that everyone gets the help and support they need at school.

I guess, no matter how much we hate it at times, statistics is here to stay. It might be difficult at times and although we might feel like giving up, we need it. Think just how important it is for medicine and drug tests, without statistics how would you know if the antibiotics you were taking were safe? Or next time you reach for your mascara or hair gel, just think, without statistics how would you know which the best products were? Statistics are all around us; on the television, the computer, in magazines. Everywhere! It’s time to stop worrying about them and think about the benefits of statistics.