Are there benefits to gaining a strong statistical background?

by Research Methods & Statistics

When I saw that Statistics appeared on my first year timetable I was filled with horror. As a naive first year I often thought ‘why do I even need to learn about statistics?!’ However, after a year of endless nights falling asleep in my stats book I realize how stupid I was. Statistics is vital. It shows us information that nothing else can. I’d probably even say it’s more useful than Google.

Thanks to Evolutionary psychology I was scared of getting married incase I ended up killing my wife as research into mate retention (Buss, 1988), uxorocide (Daly and Wilson, 1988) and homicide (Buss and Shakelford, 1997) seems to suggest us men used to batter our WAGs on a daily basis. However, other research by Hyde (1984) found that only 5% of the variance in aggression is actually a result of gender. Finding variance within a population produces justified information regarding how the population varies among individuals. This is what a study aims to find therefore highlights the importance of gaining a strong statistical background before making such conclusions as what appears to make sense at first glance can be shown to be very wrong with the use of statistical analysis.

There is no hiding from statistics, especially for us wanna be psychologists. When we’re not having ANOVA and t tests shoved down our throat in lectures, the voice over man on television adverts is drilling statistics in our ear drums. Statistics is used to sell human beings all kinds of useless things they don’t actually need but have apparently helped 99% of the population look, smell, taste and feel better. For example, ‘Dove’ conducted a Global Survey on half a million women and published the results on their 2007 advert. Dove reported 96% of women said the body wash left their skin feeling soft and subtle. Here, Dove promote the success rate of the product with statistic thus sounding more appealing to potential consumers resulting in an increased profit and more successful brand.

Sensodyne also relied on statistics to sell their product. The advert includes statistics such as ‘6 out of 10 people with sensitive teeth do nothing about it’ and how 94% of people using the toothpaste would recommend to a friend. The methodology employed within statistics ensures that researchers gain justified conclusions from their choice of testing method (in this case surveys, interviews and questionnaires) and that the findings are presented in an accurate and informative way. With respect to this advert, Sensodyne want to check that their product is working correctly for customer satisfactory and without the use of trials and statistics they would not know this.

Statistics is not just used by advertisers to test their products; it is commonly distributed in many professions. Psychologists rely on gaining a strong statistical background to test the effectiveness and appropriateness of psychological treatments. For example, McGrath et al (1990) reported 75% of patients suffering with phobias responded well to systematic desensitisation in a set of clinical trials. Also, in a review by Davis et al (1980) a significant difference in effectiveness of conventional antipsychotics was reported thus showing the effectiveness of drugs used to treat schizophrenia. These are just a few of many examples where a strong statistical background has many positive real world applications such as helping psychologists find the best treatments for their patients suffering with a range of disorders.

On a finishing note, statistics are everywhere. Look around; newspapers, television, billboards and the dusty textbook you’re hiding in the corner of your room. Statistics is an extremely powerful tool and although us students hate it, we need it. More importantly, think what we need it for; medicine, psychology, health and business. So, basically EVERYTHING.

Buss, D.M. (1988). From vigilance to violence: tactics of mate retention in American undergraduates. Ethology and Sociobiology, 9, 291-317

Daly, M. and Wilson, M. (1988). Homicide. NewYork: Aldine de Gruyter.

Buss, D.M. and Shackelford, T.K. (1997). From vigilance to violence: mate retention tactics in married couples. Journal of personality and Social Psychology, 72, 346-61.

McGrath, T., Tsui, E., Humphries, S. and Yule, W. (1990) Successful treatment of a noise phobia in a nine year old girl with systematic desensitisation in vivo. Educaional Psychology, 10, 79-83.

Davis, J.M., Schaffer, C.B., Killian, G.A., Kinnard, C. and Chan, C. (1980). Important issues in the drug treatment of schizophrenia. Schizophrenia Bulletin, 6, 70-87.