Why Are Statistics Necessary in Psychology?

Psychology Statistics
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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 courses are a major part of virtually all psychology programs. You will also encounter the subject in many of your other classes, particularly those that involve experimental design or research methods.

To succeed in psychology, you not only need to be able to pass a statistics class. You need to be able to understand statistics, too.

The Importance of Statistics in Psychology

Statistics allow 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 with 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:

  • 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. Visual displays such as graphs, pie charts, frequency distributions, and scatterplots allow researchers to get a better overview of data and look for patterns they might otherwise miss.
  • Describe data: Think about what happens when researchers collect a great deal of information about a group of people (for example, the U.S. Census). Descriptive statistics provide a way to summarize facts, such as how many men and women there are, how many children there are, or how many people are currently employed.
  • Make inferences based on 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. Using statistical analysis, researchers can determine the likelihood that a hypothesis should be either accepted or rejected.

How Statistics Can Help You

Having a solid understanding of statistical methods can help you excel in almost all other classes. Whether you are taking 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 interpret (or misinterpret) psychology research.

By understanding the research process, including the kinds of statistical analyses that are used, you will be able to become a wise consumer of psychology information and make better judgments of the information you come across. By understanding statistics, you can make better decisions about your health and well-being.

Math Classes for Psychology Majors

Many prospective psychology students assume that their chosen major will require very little math. After all, psychology is the science of the mind and behavior, so what does math have to do with it?

Quite a bit, actually. Math classes, and statistics in particular, are an important part of any psychology program. You will need to take math classes that fulfill your school's general education requirements as well as additional statistics requirements to fulfill your psychology program's core requirements.

In most cases, you will have to take at least two math classes, but in other cases, it might end up being between three and five. Check your school's graduation requirements as well as your psychology program's core requirements for more information.

Getting Help With Statistics

Knowing why statistics are important might not help with that sense of dread you feel before stepping into your first stats course. But even if you don't consider yourself "good at math," you can still succeed in your stats classes. You might have to put in some extra effort, but help is available.

Start with your instructor. They might be able to recommend books, online tools, and on-campus resources. 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. Consider joining or forming a study group with classmates, too.

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