Interpreting Significant Results
David M. Lane
to Hypothesis Testing, Statistical
Significance, Type I and II Errors,
One and Two-Tailed Tests
- Discuss whether rejection of the null hypothesis should be an all-or-none
- State the usefulness of a significance test when it is extremely likely
that the null hypothesis of no difference is false even before doing
probability value is below the α level, the effect is
statistically significant and the null hypothesis is rejected.
However, not all statistically significant effects should be treated
the same way. For example, you should have less confidence that
the null hypothesis is false if p = 0.049 than p = 0.003. Thus,
rejecting the null hypothesis is not an all-or-none proposition.
If the null hypothesis is rejected, then the alternative
to the null hypothesis (called the alternative
hypothesis) is accepted. Consider the one-tailed
test in the James
Bond case study: Mr. Bond was given 16 trials on which he
judged whether a martini had been shaken or stirred and the question
is whether he is better than chance on this task. The null hypothesis
for this one-tailed test is that π ≤ 0.5, where π is the
probability of being correct on any given trial. If this null
hypothesis is rejected, then the alternative hypothesis that π
> 0.5 is accepted. If π is greater than 0.5, then Mr. Bond
is better than chance on this task.
Now consider the two-tailed test used in the Physicians'
Reactions case study. The null hypothesis is:
μobese = μaverage.
If this null hypothesis is rejected, then there
are two alternatives:
μobese < μaverage
μobese > μaverage.
Naturally, the direction of the sample means determines
which alternative is adopted. If the sample mean for the obese
patients is significantly lower than the sample mean for the average-weight
patients, then one should conclude that the population mean for
the obese patients is lower than the population mean for the
There are many situations in which it is very unlikely
two conditions will have exactly the same population means. For
example, it is practically impossible that aspirin and acetaminophen
provide exactly the same degree of pain relief. Therefore, even
before an experiment comparing their effectiveness is conducted,
the researcher knows that the null hypothesis of exactly no difference
is false. However, the researcher does not know which drug offers
more relief. If a test of the difference is significant, then
the direction of the difference is established. This point is
also made in the section on the relationship between confidence
intervals and significance tests.
Some textbooks have incorrectly stated that rejecting the null
hypothesis that two population means are equal does not justify
a conclusion about which population mean is larger. Instead, they
say that all one can conclude is that the population means differ.
The validity of concluding the direction of the effect is clear
if you note that a two-tailed test at the 0.05 level is equivalent
to two separate one-tailed tests each at the 0.025 level. The
two null hypotheses are then
μobese ≥ μaverage
μobese ≤ μaverage.
If the former of these is rejected, then the
conclusion is that the population mean for obese patients is
lower than that for average-weight patients. If the latter is
rejected, then the conclusion is that the population mean for
obese patients is higher than that for average-weight patients.
Please answer the questions: