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March 2006 Volume 19 , Numbe r 3 Teaching Quantitative Reasoning How to Make Psychology Statistically Significant By Neil Lutsky How can psychology contribute to the public good? The Human Capital Initiative (HCI) report, prepared with the assistance of APS, cites an important means of doing so: helping people to improve their statistical reasoning. "The goal of learning statistical reasoning" it notes, "should be to develop better statistical 'instincts,' not just knowledge of particular statistical procedures" (Human Capital Initiative, 1998, p. 24). Those instincts are crucial to contemporary life, for, as the National Council on Education and the Disciplines (Steen, 2001, p. 1) observed, "The world of the twentyfirst century is a world awash in numbers." Although data are not always used well (e.g., Best, 2004), databased claims are nonetheless a staple of policy debates, advertisements, medical news, educational assessments, financial decisionmaking, and everyday conversation, as well as of pure and applied research in psychological science. In sum, our students need sharp statistical instincts to navigate psychology and to contribute to life beyond it. Are we as faculty in higher education doing enough to help students develop quantitative values and skills? According to colleagues in mathematics, the answer is no. In a 1998 report, "Quantitative Reasoning for College Graduates," the Mathematical Association of America suggested, "too many educated people... are quantitatively illiterate." Some mathematicians hold their own discipline partially responsible. Lynn Steen (2004) of St. Olaf College has cogently argued that the postsecondary mathematics curriculum channels college students away from quantitative study. Psychology, then, has the opportunity to help undergraduates develop needed statistical instincts. Psychology's Special Role in Promoting Quantitative Reasoning There are at least four reasons why psychology as a discipline is wellsuited to contribute to undergraduate education in quantitative reasoning (QR). Psychology has Wide Exposure to Undergraduates. Approximately 1.2 million students take introductory psychology courses annually (M. Sugarman, McGrawHill Publishers, personal communication, June 1, 2005) and nearly 75,000 graduate each year with a degree in psychology (American Psychological Association, 2005). Psychology has a Natural Affinity for QR. As the historian of statistics Stephen Stigler has shown, statistics and psychology are "inextricably bound together" (1999, p. 189). (Unfortunately, Stigler rejects the hypothesis that psychologists were so much quicker to adapt statistics because they were smarter than other social scientists; he might be wrong of course!). Psychology has Rich Incentives to Hone Students' QR Instincts. Not only is quantitative reasoning an essential component of training in a psychology major (see Task Force on Undergraduate Psychology Major Competencies, 2002), it is important to public understanding of contemporary psychological research and practice. Psychologists can Appreciate the Educational Rationale for QR Across the Curriculum. We recognize that students need to encounter a broad array of stimulus conditions calling for QR if they are to develop and strengthen generalized QR cognitive tendencies. Psychology represents one of a number of content areas besides mathematics in which QR might naturally come into play for students. What is QR? In literatures addressing quantitative reasoning and literacy, many authors attempt to specify lists of skills or outcomes constituting QR (e.g., Steen, 2001). Although there is variation among lists, most lists include the following: descriptive and inferential statistics, chance and probability, graphical presentations of data, APS Observer  Teaching Quantitative Reasoning http://www.psychologicalscience.org/observer/getArticle.cfm?id=1955 1 of 4 6/1/2011 11:18 AM
Object Description
Collection Title  Scholarly Publications by Carleton Faculty and Staff 
Journal Title  Association for Psychological Science Observer 
Article Title  Teaching quantitative reasoning: How to make psychology statistically significant 
Article Author  Lutsky, Neil 
Carleton Author 
Lutsky, Neil 
Department  Psychology 
Field  Social Sciences 
Year  2006 
Volume  19 
Publisher  American Psychological Society 
File Name  027_LutskyNeil_HowToMakePsychologyStatisticallySignificant.pdf; 027_LutskyNeil_HowToMakePsychologyStatisticallySignificant.pdf 
Rights Management  This document is authorized for selfarchiving and distribution online by the author(s) and is free for use by researchers. 
RoMEO Color  RoMEO_Color_Green_Unofficial 
Preprint Archiving  Yes 
Postprint Archiving  Yes 
Publisher PDF Archiving  Yes 
Paid OA Option  No_Value 
Fully Open Access  Yes 
Contributing Organization  Carleton College 
Type  Text 
Format  application/pdf 
Language  English 
Description
Article Title  Page 1 
FullText  March 2006 Volume 19 , Numbe r 3 Teaching Quantitative Reasoning How to Make Psychology Statistically Significant By Neil Lutsky How can psychology contribute to the public good? The Human Capital Initiative (HCI) report, prepared with the assistance of APS, cites an important means of doing so: helping people to improve their statistical reasoning. "The goal of learning statistical reasoning" it notes, "should be to develop better statistical 'instincts,' not just knowledge of particular statistical procedures" (Human Capital Initiative, 1998, p. 24). Those instincts are crucial to contemporary life, for, as the National Council on Education and the Disciplines (Steen, 2001, p. 1) observed, "The world of the twentyfirst century is a world awash in numbers." Although data are not always used well (e.g., Best, 2004), databased claims are nonetheless a staple of policy debates, advertisements, medical news, educational assessments, financial decisionmaking, and everyday conversation, as well as of pure and applied research in psychological science. In sum, our students need sharp statistical instincts to navigate psychology and to contribute to life beyond it. Are we as faculty in higher education doing enough to help students develop quantitative values and skills? According to colleagues in mathematics, the answer is no. In a 1998 report, "Quantitative Reasoning for College Graduates," the Mathematical Association of America suggested, "too many educated people... are quantitatively illiterate." Some mathematicians hold their own discipline partially responsible. Lynn Steen (2004) of St. Olaf College has cogently argued that the postsecondary mathematics curriculum channels college students away from quantitative study. Psychology, then, has the opportunity to help undergraduates develop needed statistical instincts. Psychology's Special Role in Promoting Quantitative Reasoning There are at least four reasons why psychology as a discipline is wellsuited to contribute to undergraduate education in quantitative reasoning (QR). Psychology has Wide Exposure to Undergraduates. Approximately 1.2 million students take introductory psychology courses annually (M. Sugarman, McGrawHill Publishers, personal communication, June 1, 2005) and nearly 75,000 graduate each year with a degree in psychology (American Psychological Association, 2005). Psychology has a Natural Affinity for QR. As the historian of statistics Stephen Stigler has shown, statistics and psychology are "inextricably bound together" (1999, p. 189). (Unfortunately, Stigler rejects the hypothesis that psychologists were so much quicker to adapt statistics because they were smarter than other social scientists; he might be wrong of course!). Psychology has Rich Incentives to Hone Students' QR Instincts. Not only is quantitative reasoning an essential component of training in a psychology major (see Task Force on Undergraduate Psychology Major Competencies, 2002), it is important to public understanding of contemporary psychological research and practice. Psychologists can Appreciate the Educational Rationale for QR Across the Curriculum. We recognize that students need to encounter a broad array of stimulus conditions calling for QR if they are to develop and strengthen generalized QR cognitive tendencies. Psychology represents one of a number of content areas besides mathematics in which QR might naturally come into play for students. What is QR? In literatures addressing quantitative reasoning and literacy, many authors attempt to specify lists of skills or outcomes constituting QR (e.g., Steen, 2001). Although there is variation among lists, most lists include the following: descriptive and inferential statistics, chance and probability, graphical presentations of data, APS Observer  Teaching Quantitative Reasoning http://www.psychologicalscience.org/observer/getArticle.cfm?id=1955 1 of 4 6/1/2011 11:18 AM 