, Volume 1, Issue 4, pp 476-490

Using confidence intervals in within-subject designs

Abstract

We argue that to best comprehend many data sets, plotting judiciously selected sample statistics with associated confidence intervals can usefully supplement, or even replace, standard hypothesis-testing procedures. We note that most social science statistics textbooks limit discussion of confidence intervals to their use in between-subject designs. Our central purpose in this article is to describe how to compute an analogous confidence interval that can be used in within-subject designs. This confidence interval rests on the reasoning that because between-subject variance typically plays no role in statistical analyses of within-subject designs, it can legitimately be ignored; hence, an appropriate confidence interval can be based on the standard within-subject error term—that is, on the variability due to the subject × condition interaction. Computation of such a confidence interval is simple and is embodied in Equation 2 on p. 482 of this article. This confidence interval has two useful properties. First, it is based on the same error term as is the corresponding analysis of variance, and hence leads to comparable conclusions. Second, it is related by a known factor (√2) to a confidence interval of the difference between sample means; accordingly, it can be used to infer the faith one can put in some pattern of sample means as a reflection of the underlying pattern of population means. These two properties correspond to analogous properties of the more widely used between-subject confidence interval.

The writing of this manuscript was supported by NIMH Grant MH41637 to G. R. Loftus and Canadian NSERC Grant OGP0007910 to M. E. J. Masson. We thank Jim Colton, Steve Edgell, Rich Gonzalez, David Lane, Jeff Miller, Rich Schweickert, Saul Sternberg, George Wolford, and two anonymous reviewers for very useful comments on earlier drafts of the manuscript.