Why Study Statistics in Psychology?

Published December 18, 2007 by Psych n Stats Tutor

Many students of psychology (including myself) are shocked when they discover that the study of statistics is necessary. “Maths!!! I just want to help people!” is the usual cry of derision. is there a purpose in having potential psychologists, who do not intend to do research, suffer through the complexities and esoteric boredom of stats?

Simply put: Yes.

The statistical arts are basically a numerical summary of a set of recorded data. A sexual abuse therapist may see over 150 children in a year. Of these, 50 have anger management issues, 14 are promiscuous, 75 are diagnosed as experiencing ADHD, 10 are withdrawn, 5 appear to have no negative psycho-social behaviours, affect or cognitions, whilst another 5 have already perpetrated against other children.

The therapist would have more difficulty developing an awareness of the differences and similarities across the children if statistics were not available to summarise observations.

Statistics will also inform the therapist to associations and relationships between the characteristics and experiences of the children. For example, between diagnoses of ADHD, sexual abuse, age, gender and likelihood to experience abuse again.

The statistical information helps the children because the therapist grows in knowledge by reflecting on patterns of behaviour and psychological well being.  The therapist is now able to formulate hypotheses about interventions to aid a specific set of inappropriate behaviours, affect or cognitions. Using statistics the hypotheses can be tested, leading the therapist to better methods of intervention & evaluation; the child is lead to a better quality of life.

Communication of the therapist’s observations and research conclusions to other sexual abuse workers extends understanding and creates better interventions and supports for abused children.




This is an example of why we have statistics in psychology…to achieve our goal to help people.


Florence Nightingale (pioneer nurse, writer and avid statistician) agreed:



Statistic…the most important science in the whole world: for upon it depends the practical application of every other science and of every art; the one science essential to all political and social administration, all education, all

organisation based upon experience, for it only gives the results of our experience.


A psychology degree places an expectation on you in the workplace to be able to;

  • design research
  • collect data in an unbiased (as possible) manner
  • analyse observations
  • determine if a change has occurred or not and to what extent
  • draw logical conclusions from the results to inform further research and understanding

There is also the responsibility for you, as a psychologist to;

  • identify interventions that really work (requires reading of research articles)
  • use psychometric instruments to measure psychological states
  • facilitate learning, development and change for the individual/group
  • argue for or against decisions that directly impact on the wellbeing of others

These goals cannot be met without the use of statistics.

Ultimately, raw individual data has little use if it cannot be synthesized into a larger overall picture; too much individual information leads to overload and is meaningless. Summaries provided by statistics create meaning from aggregate data that can be used to help people to live more fulfilling and powerful lives.




Informed decision making for the therapist and the client requires knowledge and use of statistics.




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48 comments on “Why Study Statistics in Psychology?

  • wow, interesting post! ive just had my psychology statistics exam and, although iam still complaining about the subject, you are right in saying that its a neccessary part of being a psychologist. I can’t wait to start conducting myown research and, as unforunate as it is, part of this will involve analysing my data.

    Thanks for this post, it has inspired me to TRY to enjoy and understand statistics a little more!

  • i am a psychology undergraduate (freshman) need more insight on this topic. to prove the need for statistics in psychology. Thanks for this post it has helped me.

  • Wow, i really appreciate this info. I am taking my psychology class and was wondering why we had to take statistics. Great info. Thank you so much. Do you have any more to give? Take care!!

  • hi!i am a student of statistic and i am very happy to read the comments about statistics and i want to say statS is “ZINDA BAAD”.

  • heyyyyy thanx 4 scha helpful site…………….. i m an undrgraduate stdnt of psychology ……….. n i need mre n4mation abt my courses …. mentl health, psychological testing, develmental psychology, applied statistics, personality thearies and research methodology………. it wud b so kind of u .. f u ppl help n ds way……….. regrds

  • Thanks for the insight ^^. I’m in high school hoping to get into psychology and was wondering why i would need math. thanks to this information it’s given me some more confidence on working on my math ^^.

    • Sorry for the delay in reply. Spearman had a lot to do with the development of statistics, particularly correlation and multiple regression. I will look into the history of Personality and Experimental psychology, as these are the fields from which statistics use in psychology grew.

      The posts will be at the new blog, www.psitutor.org

      Come visit ~:-)

  • hi! i am tasked to have a demo teaching on statistical psychology and i really don’t have any idea of what it is all about?is statistical psychology the same with statistics IN psychology? is it the same as behavioral or experimental psychology?hope you could help me…thanks a lot:)

    • Thanks for visiting my site~ and how fun! you are learning stats. Yes, statistics in psychology~ and examples of the use of stats in psych can be found in behavioural research and its use of the experimental approach.

      Statistics in psychology is essential~ we use the math as a tool to identify, measure and test individual differences or scenarios, thus creating opportunities for change interventions and revealing factors that make up human behaviours across contexts.

      Behavioural psychology and experimental psychology are both forms of Psychology. Behaviouralists tend to have an experimental approach to their research. An experiment is when you set up a scenario with random participants and measure/test their responses to stimuli. The environment is highly controlled to isolate core behaviours (almost nothing occurs in isolation~ life!). A high degree of control can invalidate findings~ thus, experimental research may reveal a human phenomenon that does not occur in the real-world, which has some academics questioning the purpose of such experiments.

      Hope this helps~ Keep me up to date with your studies. I will write a post or two to help yourself and others understand better, statistics in psychology.

      • thank you very much for your immediate response…it really helped me a lot:)you are such a great help for people, like me, who are a bit lost when it comes to statistics…thanks again:)

  • thank you for the information given. actually i am a student pursuing my pg in psychology from the distant mode and facing troubles in studying as i dont have any idea how to study and what to study and i need some guidance about it as i dont have any lecture as it is distant mode. so lease help me and i dont want to loose my year

  • am an undergrad. of psychology from a prestigious university in nigeria and i LOOOOOOOOOOOOOVVVVVVVVVEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE being a psychology student n am thinking of going into counselling,,,am currently in my 2nd year @ school and i love my course…yeepee!!

  • I really need some help with these questions…
    2. Does drinking green teas make you smarter…. write a unidirectional null and alternative hypothesis responding to the question. Write a non-directional null and alternative hypothesis responding to the question.
    4. An experiment is conducted investigating eye color and criminality. it is found that when no one is watching, those with blue eyes are more likely to commit a theft than those with green eyes. What is the type 1 and type 2 error associated with this?
    5. Using a one directional Z test; investigating the effectiveness of growth hormones on weight in pounds.
A. make up realistic data for sample mean and population that conforms to rejecting a false null hypothesis

    B. Compute standard error of the mean and Z scores…. show work

    C. Include the appropriate critical value

    N (sample size)-100

    X (sample mean)-?

    Standard error of the mean-?
Population sd- 25 pounds
Population mean-?

    Critical value-?

    Z score-?

    • Mmm, what if I asked you: Why should psychology students not study stats?

      With a knowledge of statistics we are able to think critically and to apply quality reflection on our own decisions and behaviours. In this way we can make real and meaningful changes in the wider community, as well as our own lives. We can also argue (in the academic tone) as to why a method of teaching or student interaction with materials will enhance learning, as well as be able to show how much change has actually taken place. We are the only ones qualified to create tests to identify dementia, autism, learning difficulties, and perceptual differences that can be supported better with early intervention, for example.

      Psychologists are distinct and unique in their field, regardless of the industry that we go in to. Statistics gives us skills that enable us to take meaningful jobs and to create high quality service to ourselves and others.

  • Actually i feels great for being part of this wonderful an achievable field all i pray is that all our great psychologist will try to see that they develop love for statistics in other to create a nation with both quantitative an qualitative psychologist

  • This is a very interesting topic every psychologists needs to comment on……STATISTICS…it has been observed that most students of social sciences do run away from anything maths,,but thanks to this team for their tremendous effort in explaining what and the importance of statistics to psychologist….i’m happy to be a statistics lover…….what about you?????

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