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.

# http://www.bbc.co.uk/health/physical_health/conditions/obesity2.shtml

## http://www.rateinflation.com/inflation-rate/uk-inflation-rate.php

### http://tellyads.com/show_movie.php?filename=TA9635

*http://psycnet.apa.org/psycinfo/1997-30052-008

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9 thoughts on “Are there benefits to creating a strong statistical background in psychology?

  1. In your post you mention how “without statistics how would you know which the best products were”, however I believe that advertising agencies use statistics in such a way that are confusing and almost manipulative towards consumers. When reading the “small print” or disclaimers at the bottom of such adverts they often have an odd number of participants or people surveyed for the product, so to the potentially naive eye, yes “3 out of 4 women would recommend Maxfactor…”, but the adverts small print in fact reads “78% out of 850 people” would recommend to a friend which is a little more difficult to analyse than the initial claim, and could almost be considered to make the original statistic seem a little misleading. However, more positively the sample number for this particular survey was fairly large, making the information therefore more reliable, which does increase consumer trust.

  2. psychjs1 says:

    In your blog you present the argument; ‘without statistics how would you know which the best products were?’ However, the statistics used in advertising campaigns are often very bent and misleading. Advertisers do not include all facts about the statistics presented on screen in large letters therefore; the statistics do not show which products are ‘best’. For example, the promotional campaign for the product ‘Centrum’ in 1997 was very misleading. The advertising leaflet used information such as statistics show that 90% Americans don’t get all the nutrients they need from what they eat and are missing out on important vitamins and minerals. However, this statement refers to a survey that was conducted 10 years prior to the advert release. In addition, Dietary surveys that measure nutrient intake for just one day or even a couple days, are not reliable or valid for determining the overall quality of an individual’s diet. This example highlights how statistics can be twisted and misleading to suit advertisers needs. Furthermore, it demonstrates how using statistics in advertising to base decisions is not always a valid way of choosing the best products.

  3. psychmja1 says:

    I understand what you’re both saying and to a certain extent I agree that statistics can be misrepresented on the television or in magazines etc. But you have to think that if adverts presented the raw data it would not catch peoples eye like high statistics and would be too confusing to comprehend at a glance. For instance if a television advert said ‘347 people said they liked it, 89 people said they didn’t and a few couldn’t make up their mind’ it wouldn’t really catch peoples eye compared to a statistic such as ‘over 79% of 299 women agree’. This gives us the actual number of people sampled and the percentage that agreed with the products claims which is much more precise (The advert for youth serum: http://www.tellyads.com/show_movie.php?filename=TA10697). This example is a good method of advertising with statistics as it is truthful but avoids showing any unnecessary figures.

    I agree that it may not be the best way to decide which products to use but it’s there as a baseline for you to make your own decisions from. How many of us would actually bother to look up the exact studies and numbers of people used before picking a new moisturiser?

  4. uzumakiabby says:

    I shall jump in here. I have to agree with psychmj1 (whoever you may be!) and say that yes, advertisements would nowhere near be as persuasive if they were truthful. However i do not believe that because they present the statistics as they do, that it isn’t particularly surprising. Read this article: http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/ptitle5kgfz6fn1lso. In it, it is expressed that the people who fund any research is of course going to effect the results.Think about the study we learned about in monday’s lecture (it’s been retracted so cant find it, obviously!) They were hired by a pharmacutical company and boom! The results showed drugs were better than therapy- what are the chances! In the case of adverts, if loreal do a study on loreal, of course they are going to bend the way the results are presented to make them look great. Is this particularly ethical? I’m not too sure about that, but it certainly isn’t a great shock to anyone.
    Abby

  5. leylaosman says:

    Yes like you I didn’t understand the depth of statistics required for this course however I do believe it has helped me a lot understanding both research and everyday media!

    It has also made me aware like you of how many statistics are used in everyday life but how many are actually valid and true? For example how did they recruite the participants, how many were there? Did they have any knowledge on the product they were testing? All these are kept out in order to make the statistic more trustworthy and valid so like you mentioned, does this really show the best product realistically?

    In conclusion

  6. esh2 says:

    @psychmja1
    I agree with you that we probably don’t look at how many people were involved in a survey for a moisturiser or other beauty products. But I would have to say that if the advertising agencies did use easier samples and more equal numbers, it would give us as the public a chance to give a better chance of really understanding a products quality or popularity.

  7. static says:

    I agree with Statistics for tea’s comment! With regards to how you have addressed the effect of statistics with media and the public I believe that yes they do have a major effect but in your blog that there isn’t enough detail as to what point you are making or any information on how statistics can be a bad thing with regards to twisting what they present. For instance, the off print of information on how many people were studied can change how the statistics influence the viewers and possibly should have addressed further. As you have said in your blog, stats isn’t the only contribution towards consumer trust which may have also been a good point that the public doesn’t just rely on raw data is being presented to them.Further more, throughout your blog and particularly when referring to drugs and medical the use of evidence to support what you have said may be a extra thought for you next blog.

  8. ecstatsic says:

    To weigh in on the debate here, I agree with other commentators that your portrayal of the use of statistics within the media is perhaps one-side. While you mentioned that the small print used in ads consists of the number of people surveyed – or some such statistic – and should be a strong statistic to be persuasive, you failed to mention that this is rarely the case. The
    “statistical background”/small print when analysed tends to undermine the claims made and in fact is not included as a marketing gimmick, but as a legal disclaimer. It is for this reason that I felt it a pity that you returned to the advertising/best mascara etc. example following a strong paragraph on gender differences (or lack thereof) and IQ. Your analysis and points on this subject were both strong and interesting and this is the first blog that I have read that made this particular point! So perhaps in future, when you have such a good point again, be careful not to surround it on either side with a particular example that is likely to be rebutted easily and that may disguise it. It seems that all commentators became carried away with the flawed advertising example (myself included!) and forgot your other points. Though as it provoked great debate, perhaps you made to correct choice after all!

  9. I think your point about statistics being important when finding out about the safety of antibiotics is a good one. I think people tend to focus on the less important but more widely circulated statistics, such as opinions on mascara and hair products. We tend to forget that statistics and statistical analysis is used for potentially life changing medication, and statistics really is very important in areas such as pharmacology.

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