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What is Statistical Significance?

Statistical significance helps verify medical research.
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  • Originally Written By: J.Gunsch
  • Revised By: A. Joseph
  • Edited By: L. S. Wynn
  • Last Modified Date: 18 August 2014
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Statistical significance is a mathematical tool that is used to determine whether the outcome of an experiment is the result of a relationship between specific factors or merely the result of chance. This concept is commonly used in the medical field to test drugs and vaccines and to determine causal factors of disease. Statistical significance also is used in the fields of psychology, environmental biology and other disciplines in which research is conducted through experimentation.

Statistics are the mathematical calculations of numeric sets or populations that are manipulated to produce a probability of the occurrence of an event. A sample is used, and the results of the calculation are applied to an entire population. For example, it might be said that 80 percent of all adults in the United States drive a car. It would be difficult to ask each adult in the U.S. whether whether he or she drives a car, so a random number of people could be questioned, and the data could be statistically analyzed and generalized to apply to all adults in the U.S.

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In a scientific study, a hypothesis is proposed, then data is collected and analyzed. The statistical analysis of the data will produce a number that is statistically significant if it falls below a certain percentage called the confidence level or level of significance. For example, if this level is set at 5 percent and the likelihood of an event is determined to be statistically significant, the researcher is 95 percent confident that the result did not happen by chance.

Sometimes, when the statistical significance of an experiment is very important, such as the safety of a drug meant for humans, the statistical significance must fall below 3 percent. In this case, a researcher could be 97 percent sure that a particular drug is safe for human use. This number can be lowered or raised to accommodate the importance and desired certainty of the result being correct.

Statistical significance is used to reject or accept what is called the null hypothesis. A hypothesis is an explanation that a researcher is trying to prove. The null hypothesis typically holds that the factors at which a researcher is looking have no effect on differences in the data or that there is no connection between the factors. Statistical significance is usually written, for example, as t=.02, p<.05. Here, "t" stands for the test score and "p<.05" means that the probability of an event occurring by chance is less than 5 percent. These numbers would cause the null hypothesis to be rejected.

An example of a psychological hypothesis using statistical significance might be the hypothesis that baby girls smile more than baby boys. To test this hypothesis, a researcher would observe a certain number of baby girls and boys and count how many times they smile within a certain period of time. At the end of the observation, the numbers of smiles would be statistically analyzed.

Every experiment comes with a certain degree of error. It is possible that on the day of observation all the boys were abnormally grumpy. The statistical significance found by the analysis of the data would rule out this possibility by 95 percent if t=.03. In this case, with 95 percent certainty, the researcher could say that girls smile more than boys.

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Discuss this Article

anon324437
Post 11

I'd like to know how probability is used to determine statistical significance.

anon266869
Post 8

subject:statistcal significance.

1.it is the null hypothesis that was rejected

2.the complaint was registered with the supplier

3.there was a mistake in packaging

anon243541
Post 7

Define “statistical significance” and summarize several important factors that influence statistical significance.

anon36129
Post 5

statistical significance

1. Ho was rejected

2. Yes, a complaint was registered with the supplier

3. No

- aisha

jefv
Post 4

Statistical Significance Homework

Last month, Wegmans received many customer complaints about the quantity of chips in 16-ounce bags of a particular brand. Wanting to assure its customers they were getting their money's worth, Wegmans decided to test the following hypotheses concerning the true average weight (in ounces) of a bag of such potato chips in the next shipment received from the supplier:

Ho: The average weight is 16 ounces (at least)

Ho: average = 16 (≥)

Ha: The average weight is less than 16 ounces

Ha: average < 16

If there is evidence in favor of the alternative hypothesis, the shipment will be refused and a complaint registered with the supplier. Some bags of chips were selected from the next shipment and the weight of each selected bag was measured. The researcher for the supermarket chain stated that the data were statistically significant.

Answer the following three numbered questions. You can just submit your answers in the Message box below. Use 'statistical significance' for the subject title. Don't forget to submit when completed.

1. What hypothesis was rejected?

2. Was a complaint registered with the supplier?

3. Could there have been a mistake? If so, describe it.

anon16926
Post 1

If you had the number of boys' and girls' smiles (assuming an equal number of boys & girls), how do you compute t? Then, would you get p by seeing how many times a particular boy smiles more than other boys (e.g.)?

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