Statnote 8: statistical power and sample size


Statistical software is now commonly available to calculate Power (P') and sample size (N) for most experimental designs. In many circumstances, however, sample size is constrained by lack of time, cost, and in research involving human subjects, the problems of recruiting suitable individuals. In addition, the calculation of N is often based on erroneous assumptions about variability and therefore such estimates are often inaccurate. At best, we would suggest that such calculations provide only a very rough guide of how to proceed in an experiment. Nevertheless, calculation of P' is very useful especially in experiments that have failed to detect a difference which the experimenter thought was present. We would recommend that P' should always be calculated in these circumstances to determine whether the experiment was actually too small to test null hypotheses adequately.



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