"Help! I'm majoring in psychology and I just found out that I have to take two statistics classes in order to graduate. I'm seriously freaking out because I'm horrible at math. Honestly, one of the reasons I decided to major in psychology was because I thought there wouldn't be any math involved. Why are these classes necessary for a psychology major? What benefit do they serve?"
A lot of psychology students are surprised (and sometimes dismayed) to realize that statistics courses are required for graduation in their chosen major. Yes, statistics is a major part of virtually all psychology programs. Not only will you need to take one or two courses of statistics, you will probably also encounter the subject in many of your other classes, particularly those that involve experimental design or research methods.
The Importance of Statistics in Psychology
So why is statistics important in psychology?
First let's think about the importance of statistics in general. Statistics allows us to make sense of and interpret a great deal of information. Consider the sheer volume of data you encounter in a given day. How many hours did you sleep? How many students in your class ate breakfast this morning? How many people live within a one mile radius of your home? By using statistics, we can organize and interpret all of this information in a meaningful way.
In psychology, we are also confronted by enormous amounts of data. How do changes in one variable impact other variables? Is there a way we can measure that relationship? What is the overall strength of that relationship and what does that mean? Statistics allow us to answer these kinds of questions.
Statistics allow psychologists to:
- To Organize Data: When dealing with an enormous amount of information, it is all too easy to become overwhelmed. Statistics allow psychologists to present data in ways that are easier to comprehend. Graphical displays such as graphs, pie charts, frequency distributions, and scatterplots make it possible for researchers to get a better overview of the data and to look for patterns that they might otherwise miss.
- Describe Data: Think about what happens when researchers collect a great deal of information about a group of people. The U.S. census is a great example. Using statistics, we can accurately describe the information that has been gathered in a way that is easy to understand. Descriptive statistics provide a way to describe what already exists in a given population, such as how many men and women there are, how many children there are, or how many people are currently employed.
- Make Inferences Based Upon Data: By using what's known as inferential statistics, researchers can infer things about a given sample or population. Psychologists use the data they have collected to test a hypothesis, or a guess about what they predict will happen. Using this type of statistical analysis, researchers can determine the likelihood that a hypothesis should be either accepted or rejected.
Statistics in Daily Life
So now that you have a better understanding of why statistics are essential in psychology, it might be helpful to look at how taking a statistics course can help you. Obviously, having a solid understanding of statistical methods can help you excel in almost all of your other classes. No matter what type of class you are taking, whether it is social psychology or human sexuality, you will be spending a great deal of time learning about research. Your foundation of statistical knowledge will allow you to make better sense of the research you'll find described in your other psychology courses.
Secondly, think about all the claims about psychology that you encounter on a daily basis outside of class. Magazines publish stories about the latest scientific findings, self-help books make proclamations about different ways to approach problems, and news reports often exaggerate or misinterpret psychology research. By understanding the research process, including the kinds of statistical analysis that are used, you will be able to become a wise consumer of psychology information and make better judgments of the information that you come across.
Getting Help With Statistics
Of course, knowing why statistics are important might not necessarily help with that sense of dread you feel before stepping into your very first stats course. There's good news, though! Even if you don't consider yourself "good at math," you can still succeed in your behavioral stats classes. Sure, you might have to put in some extra effort, but there are plenty of tools and resources out there that can help.
Start by discussing your concerns with your instructor. He or she might be able to recommend books, online tools, and on-campus resources that can be helpful. Consider joining or forming your own study group with your classmates. Most importantly, don't overlook the assistance that might be available at your school. Many colleges and universities offer a math lab where students can go to receive extra help and tutoring with any type of math course, including statistics.