Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 64, Issue 9, pp 1505–1513

Good practice in testing for an association in contingency tables


DOI: 10.1007/s00265-010-1014-0

Cite this article as:
Ruxton, G.D. & Neuhäuser, M. Behav Ecol Sociobiol (2010) 64: 1505. doi:10.1007/s00265-010-1014-0


The testing for an association between two categorical variables using count data is commonplace in the behavioral sciences. Here, we present evidence that influential biostatistical textbooks give contradictory and incomplete advice on good practice in the analysis of such contingency table data. We survey the statistical literature and offer guidance on such analyses. Specifically, we call for greater use of exact testing rather than tests which use an asymptotic chi-squared distribution. That is, we suggest that researchers take a conservative approach and only perform asymptotic testing where there is little doubt that it is appropriate. We recommend a specific criterion for such decision-making. Where asymptotic testing is appropriate, we recommend chi-squared over the G-test and recommend against the implementation of Yates (or any other) correction. We also provide advice on the effective use of exact testing for associations in contingency tables. Lastly, we highlight issues that need to be considered when using the commonly recommended Fisher’s exact test.


Non-parametricExact testsFisher’s exact testFisher–Freeman–Halton testChi-squared testG-testYates correctionWilliams correctionCategorical variablesTesting of association

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Division of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, Faculty of Biomedical & Life SciencesUniversity of GlasgowGlasgowUK
  2. 2.Department of Mathematics and Technique—RheinAhrCampusKoblenz University of Applied SciencesRemagenGermany