What is the basic psychology behind the math

Statistics in psychology studies


If you deal a little with the psychology course or ask around, you quickly come to a topic on which opinions differ: statistics
For some it is the reason to question the choice of course, for others it is just a boring module and for a small group the best subject in the world. But why is the subject in the degree program? Why do psychologists need statistics anyway? Why do you have to deal with key figures, distributions and tests?

1. Statistics in the course:

Statistics is offered at most universities both in the Bachelor's as a basic subject and in the Master's as a specialization. The methodology serves to learn the competent and critical application of descriptive statistical and inferential statistical methods and the solution of empirical questions. These topics are mostly dealt with in the course of studies as follows:

  • univariate and bivariate descriptive statistics
  • Basics of inferential statistics & selected inferential statistical methods
  • Analysis of Variance & Linear Regression
  • non-parametric analysis methods
  • work with the R & SPSS statistics software
  • Structural equation analyzes & multilevel analyzes (in the master’s)

2. Statistics as part of psychology

Common definitions in psychology meet at the point that their subject matter is human experience and behavior. Although the roots of psychology can be traced back to antiquity, psychology has "a long past, but only a short history," as Hermann Ebbinghaus, the pioneer of memory research, wrote. He was referring to the previously mostly missing scientific methods of the discipline. Psychology has only been a recognized science since the 19th century.

With this new understanding, experimental psychology developed the first empirical-methodological approaches and new approaches to questions that were previously primarily considered philosophical. The endeavor of science to discover connections, to expand knowledge and to be as precise as possible and with as few errors as possible, required new approaches.

And this is where the great importance of statistics becomes particularly clear:
It is the tool that turns psychology into science. The aim is to minimize the possibility of errors in order to generate a testable foundation of knowledge. This is achieved in psychology through quantification. In order to gain new knowledge, data must be collected. If you have this data, you have to be able to handle it. Statistics are required in order to be able to refer not only to individual cases, but to aggregates or to give clues as to when an observation is even worth talking about.

Descriptive statistics

The methods that belong to descriptive statistics make it possible to get an overview of the data. This can be achieved using tables or graphics, for example. Descriptive key figures are also important here: regardless of whether they are mean values, standard deviations or outliers. These parameters are a prerequisite for testing the actual hypotheses in the next step. Accordingly, psychologists need descriptive statistics, as they form the beginning of empirical research.

Inferential statistics

Inferential statistics (inferential statistics) is the second major area of ​​statistics. Its importance becomes clear when you consider how the gain in knowledge works in psychology: for example through experiments or studies. The inferential statistics offer the possibility of solving the problem of the limited number of test subjects * of these types of examinations. It is not possible to include the entire population in the data collection (or it is extremely labor-intensive). Thus, in practice, only a part of the total is available (sample). In order to still be able to make general statements, one needs statistical estimation methods that can be used to infer the entire population from the sample with a relative certainty.

3. Why is statistics important

Statistics have become indispensable for psychological research. It enables the evaluation and analysis of the collected data and is therefore the foundation of the psychological knowledge gain. If there were no statistics, one would not have this certainty because, for example, one would not be able to see the value at which a person would deviate from a certain norm in a questionnaire. For psychology students this means that they have to deal with the basic elements of statistics and their methods in order to get a basic understanding of the methods of statistical evaluation or, for example, to be active in psychological research themselves.

Statistics as a subject in psychology is not a reason for stomach ache! Students learn the importance of scientific methods and testable findings and acquire knowledge in dealing with empirical data and their evaluation. Statistics are therefore also the key to the interpretation of new research results and important to stay up to date - no matter in which area of ​​psychology you will work later!


3. Statistics in use:

The statistical analysis methods are represented in almost all professional fields of psychology. It naturally has a special place in research. This often takes place at universities, but also in companies (e.g. market research) or in state institutions. In order to have a basis for later action or the justification of political decisions, reliable knowledge is required. It must be ensured that the examinations meet quality standards and that no major errors have crept in. Researchers systematically search for new findings, document their approach and publish the results obtained. The main tasks of a researcher include:

  • Planning and carrying out investigations
  • Collection of raw data
  • Analysis of the raw data using statistical methods
  • Interpretation of the results
  • Discussion and evaluation of the quality of the research process
  • Communicating the findings and measures to the public
  • Coordination of research units or interdisciplinary research teams

3. Requirements

To be active in research you need a diploma or master's degree in psychology and should have a high level of expertise in the field of research. Research internships or research activities as an assistant are of great advantage in this field. A doctorate demonstrates a high level of competence in the research process and increases career opportunities. It is often a prerequisite for a career in the university sector.

The field of psychological research represents a rather small job market for psychologists.

4. Main competencies

  • A confident use of research methods and statistical evaluation methods
  • Knowledge of the current state of knowledge of the respective research direction
  • Ability to think scientifically
  • Understanding about the philosophy of science