Are there benefits to gaining a strong statistical background?

If you ask any student doing a Psychology degree what their LEAST favourite module is, I can guarantee that almost every single student will say “statistics”. Being a Psychology student myself, I don’t have to hesitate when I admit that Stats genuinely does scare me! There appears to be hundreds of formulas to remember, and different types of tests to learn etc, etc..

Even though the idea of statistics is pretty daunting, I must admit that I do appreciate the benefits of gaining a strong statistical background before beginning an experiment. Without finding previous research and statistics how are we supposed to produce reliable data and justify our theories and predictions? Without statistics, who knows what conclusions psychologists will come up with. Statistical and research methods are put in place in so information on the topic can be collected, then organised into appropriate categories, this then allows the researcher to analyse the data and interoperate what they have analysed.  

Not only is this important in terms of Psychology, but statistical research is also important in other professions. For example, if I was going to be prescribed medication for a bad stomach, I definitely want the percentage of people who have got better from this medicine to be higher than the percentage of people who have grown an extra ear or something due to this medication!! Luckily, I know that scientists will have done appropriate research and they will have produced statistics which show the medicine is more likely to help the stomach problem than to cause far more issues.  

Also, choices we make in our day to day lives are actually influenced by stats. For example, if you’re planning on losing weight, you may be tempted to follow the crazy diet plan of only eating a bowl of cereal for breakfast, lunch AND dinner because you were told that 80% of women did it and they “dropped a dress size in JUST two weeks”!!  Adverts on TV, in magazines and on the radio all try and win us over by throwing in some numbers, and if we’re honest.. it works! But this is where there is a downfall with statistical research, so yes the background info is great BUT we need to make sure we know we are using and following the statistical research correctly. Some (I repeat… some) researchers in the media do use statistics in a manipulative way for their own benefit, and they try and trick consumers.

..Take a look at this Clinque advert for example.

Just 4 seconds into this advert, the woman proudly boasts “76% of women agree it helps create the appearance of a more even skin tone”. If you were planning on buying a product like this, 76% may sway your vote as it is a fairly large percentage! However, if you look on the bottom right hand corner, in tiny writing it says “76% of 204 UK women”. If you think about it, is that really reliable? 204 women is not a huge sample size!  That’s only about 155 women who agreed that the product is worth buying. What about the 24% of women who didn’t agree?? What did those 49 women think about the makeup, did it make them look worse? Am I going to spend 30 odd quid on something that’s going to make me look worse than before. So next time you’re thinking of buying something due to the amazing statistics, just stop and take a closer look!

In conclusion, I do think there are benefits to gaining a strong statistical background, to ensure that the conclusions we come to are reliable. However, we must be careful not to be bias when analysing and presenting our statistical results.