Random assignment

Last updated

Random assignment or random placement is an experimental technique for assigning human participants or animal subjects to different groups in an experiment (e.g., a treatment group versus a control group) using randomization, such as by a chance procedure (e.g., flipping a coin) or a random number generator. [1] This ensures that each participant or subject has an equal chance of being placed in any group. [1] Random assignment of participants helps to ensure that any differences between and within the groups are not systematic at the outset of the experiment. [1] Thus, any differences between groups recorded at the end of the experiment can be more confidently attributed to the experimental procedures or treatment. [1]

Contents

Random assignment, blinding, and controlling are key aspects of the design of experiments because they help ensure that the results are not spurious or deceptive via confounding. This is why randomized controlled trials are vital in clinical research, especially ones that can be double-blinded and placebo-controlled.

Mathematically, there are distinctions between randomization, pseudorandomization, and quasirandomization, as well as between random number generators and pseudorandom number generators. How much these differences matter in experiments (such as clinical trials) is a matter of trial design and statistical rigor, which affect evidence grading. Studies done with pseudo- or quasirandomization are usually given nearly the same weight as those with true randomization but are viewed with a bit more caution.

Benefits of random assignment

Imagine an experiment in which the participants are not randomly assigned; perhaps the first 10 people to arrive are assigned to the Experimental group, and the last 10 people to arrive are assigned to the Control group. At the end of the experiment, the experimenter finds differences between the Experimental group and the Control group, and claims these differences are a result of the experimental procedure. However, they also may be due to some other preexisting attribute of the participants, e.g. people who arrive early versus people who arrive late.

Imagine the experimenter instead uses a coin flip to randomly assign participants. If the coin lands heads-up, the participant is assigned to the Experimental group. If the coin lands tails-up, the participant is assigned to the Control group. At the end of the experiment, the experimenter finds differences between the Experimental group and the Control group. Because each participant had an equal chance of being placed in any group, it is unlikely the differences could be attributable to some other preexisting attribute of the participant, e.g. those who arrived on time versus late.

Potential issues

Random assignment does not guarantee that the groups are matched or equivalent. The groups may still differ on some preexisting attribute due to chance. The use of random assignment cannot eliminate this possibility, but it greatly reduces it.

To express this same idea statistically - If a randomly assigned group is compared to the mean it may be discovered that they differ, even though they were assigned from the same group. If a test of statistical significance is applied to randomly assigned groups to test the difference between sample means against the null hypothesis that they are equal to the same population mean (i.e., population mean of differences = 0), given the probability distribution, the null hypothesis will sometimes be "rejected," that is, deemed not plausible. That is, the groups will be sufficiently different on the variable tested to conclude statistically that they did not come from the same population, even though, procedurally, they were assigned from the same total group. For example, using random assignment may create an assignment to groups that has 20 blue-eyed people and 5 brown-eyed people in one group. This is a rare event under random assignment, but it could happen, and when it does it might add some doubt to the causal agent in the experimental hypothesis.

Random sampling

Random sampling is a related, but distinct process. [2] Random sampling is recruiting participants in a way that they represent a larger population. [2] Because most basic statistical tests require the hypothesis of an independent randomly sampled population, random assignment is the desired assignment method because it provides control for all attributes of the members of the samples—in contrast to matching on only one or more variables—and provides the mathematical basis for estimating the likelihood of group equivalence for characteristics one is interested in, both for pretreatment checks on equivalence and the evaluation of post treatment results using inferential statistics. More advanced statistical modeling can be used to adapt the inference to the sampling method.

History

Randomization was emphasized in the theory of statistical inference of Charles S. Peirce in "Illustrations of the Logic of Science" (1877–1878) and "A Theory of Probable Inference" (1883). Peirce applied randomization in the Peirce-Jastrow experiment on weight perception.

Charles S. Peirce randomly assigned volunteers to a blinded, repeated-measures design to evaluate their ability to discriminate weights. [3] [4] [5] [6] Peirce's experiment inspired other researchers in psychology and education, which developed a research tradition of randomized experiments in laboratories and specialized textbooks in the eighteen-hundreds. [3] [4] [5] [6]

Jerzy Neyman advocated randomization in survey sampling (1934) and in experiments (1923). [7] Ronald A. Fisher advocated randomization in his book on experimental design (1935).

See also

Related Research Articles

Analysis of variance (ANOVA) is a collection of statistical models and their associated estimation procedures used to analyze the differences among means. ANOVA was developed by the statistician Ronald Fisher. ANOVA is based on the law of total variance, where the observed variance in a particular variable is partitioned into components attributable to different sources of variation. In its simplest form, ANOVA provides a statistical test of whether two or more population means are equal, and therefore generalizes the t-test beyond two means.

Design of experiments Design of tasks set to uncover from

The design of experiments is the design of any task that aims to describe and explain the variation of information under conditions that are hypothesized to reflect the variation. The term is generally associated with experiments in which the design introduces conditions that directly affect the variation, but may also refer to the design of quasi-experiments, in which natural conditions that influence the variation are selected for observation.

Statistical inference Process of using data analysis

Statistical inference is the process of using data analysis to infer properties of an underlying distribution of probability. Inferential statistical analysis infers properties of a population, for example by testing hypotheses and deriving estimates. It is assumed that the observed data set is sampled from a larger population.

The theory of statistics provides a basis for the whole range of techniques, in both study design and data analysis, that are used within applications of statistics. The theory covers approaches to statistical-decision problems and to statistical inference, and the actions and deductions that satisfy the basic principles stated for these different approaches. Within a given approach, statistical theory gives ways of comparing statistical procedures; it can find a best possible procedure within a given context for given statistical problems, or can provide guidance on the choice between alternative procedures.

Experiment Scientific procedure performed to validate a hypothesis

An experiment is a procedure carried out to support or refute a hypothesis, or determine the efficacy or likelihood of something previously untried. Experiments provide insight into cause-and-effect by demonstrating what outcome occurs when a particular factor is manipulated. Experiments vary greatly in goal and scale but always rely on repeatable procedure and logical analysis of the results. There also exist natural experimental studies.

Randomized controlled trial Form of scientific experiment

A randomized controlled trial is a form of scientific experiment used to control factors not under direct experimental control. Examples of RCTs are clinical trials that compare the effects of drugs, surgical techniques, medical devices, diagnostic procedures or other medical treatments.

Experimental psychology

Experimental psychology refers to work done by those who apply experimental methods to psychological study and the processes that underlie it. Experimental psychologists employ human participants and animal subjects to study a great many topics, including sensation & perception, memory, cognition, learning, motivation, emotion; developmental processes, social psychology, and the neural substrates of all of these.

Psychophysics

Psychophysics quantitatively investigates the relationship between physical stimuli and the sensations and perceptions they produce. Psychophysics has been described as "the scientific study of the relation between stimulus and sensation" or, more completely, as "the analysis of perceptual processes by studying the effect on a subject's experience or behaviour of systematically varying the properties of a stimulus along one or more physical dimensions".

Field experiment

Field experiments are experiments carried out outside of laboratory settings.

Internal validity is the extent to which a piece of evidence supports a claim about cause and effect, within the context of a particular study. It is one of the most important properties of scientific studies and is an important concept in reasoning about evidence more generally. Internal validity is determined by how well a study can rule out alternative explanations for its findings. It contrasts with external validity, the extent to which results can justify conclusions about other contexts.

In the design of experiments, treatments are applied to experimental units in a treatment group. In comparative experiments, members of a control group receive a standard treatment, a placebo, or no treatment at all. There may be more than one treatment group, more than one control group, or both.

External validity is the validity of applying the conclusions of a scientific study outside the context of that study. In other words, it is the extent to which the results of a study can be generalized to and across other situations, people, stimuli, and times. In contrast, internal validity is the validity of conclusions drawn within the context of a particular study. Because general conclusions are almost always a goal in research, external validity is an important property of any study. Mathematical analysis of external validity concerns a determination of whether generalization across heterogeneous populations is feasible, and devising statistical and computational methods that produce valid generalizations.

Joseph Jastrow American psychologist

Joseph Jastrow was a Polish-born American psychologist, noted for inventions in experimental psychology, design of experiments, and psychophysics. He also worked on the phenomena of optical illusions, and a number of well-known optical illusions were either discovered or popularized in his work. Jastrow believed that everyone had their own, often incorrect, preconceptions about psychology. One of his goals was to use the scientific method to identify truth from error, and educate the layperson, which he did through speaking tours, popular print media, and radio.

Randomized experiment Experiment using randomness in some aspect, usually to aid in removal of bias

In science, randomized experiments are the experiments that allow the greatest reliability and validity of statistical estimates of treatment effects. Randomization-based inference is especially important in experimental design and in survey sampling.

In fields such as epidemiology, social sciences, psychology and statistics, an observational study draws inferences from a sample to a population where the independent variable is not under the control of the researcher because of ethical concerns or logistical constraints. One common observational study is about the possible effect of a treatment on subjects, where the assignment of subjects into a treated group versus a control group is outside the control of the investigator. This is in contrast with experiments, such as randomized controlled trials, where each subject is randomly assigned to a treated group or a control group. Observational studies, for lacking an assignment mechanism, naturally present difficulties for inferential analysis.

Quasi-experiment

A quasi-experiment is an empirical interventional study used to estimate the causal impact of an intervention on target population without random assignment. Quasi-experimental research shares similarities with the traditional experimental design or randomized controlled trial, but it specifically lacks the element of random assignment to treatment or control. Instead, quasi-experimental designs typically allow the researcher to control the assignment to the treatment condition, but using some criterion other than random assignment.

Statistics, in the modern sense of the word, began evolving in the 18th century in response to the novel needs of industrializing sovereign states. The evolution of statistics was, in particular, intimately connected with the development of European states following the peace of Westphalia (1648), and with the development of probability theory, which put statistics on a firm theoretical basis.

Oscar Kempthorne was a British statistician and geneticist known for his research on randomization-analysis and the design of experiments, which had wide influence on research in agriculture, genetics, and other areas of science.

In randomized statistical experiments, generalized randomized block designs (GRBDs) are used to study the interaction between blocks and treatments. For a GRBD, each treatment is replicated at least two times in each block; this replication allows the estimation and testing of an interaction term in the linear model.

References

  1. 1 2 3 4 Witte, Robert S. (5 January 2017). Statistics. Witte, John S. (11 ed.). Hoboken, NJ. p. 5. ISBN   978-1-119-25451-5. OCLC   956984834.
  2. 1 2 "Social Research Methods - Knowledge Base - Random Selection & Assignment".
  3. 1 2 Charles Sanders Peirce and Joseph Jastrow (1885). "On Small Differences in Sensation". Memoirs of the National Academy of Sciences. 3: 73–83.
  4. 1 2 Ian Hacking (September 1988). "Telepathy: Origins of Randomization in Experimental Design". Isis . 79 (3): 427–451. doi:10.1086/354775. S2CID   52201011.
  5. 1 2 Stephen M. Stigler (November 1992). "A Historical View of Statistical Concepts in Psychology and Educational Research". American Journal of Education. 101 (1): 60–70. doi:10.1086/444032. S2CID   143685203.
  6. 1 2 Trudy Dehue (December 1997). "Deception, Efficiency, and Random Groups: Psychology and the Gradual Origination of the Random Group Design" (PDF). Isis . 88 (4): 653–673. doi:10.1086/383850. PMID   9519574. S2CID   23526321.
  7. Neyman, Jerzy (1990) [1923], Dabrowska, Dorota M.; Speed, Terence P. (eds.), "On the application of probability theory to agricultural experiments: Essay on principles (Section 9)", Statistical Science (Translated from (1923) Polish ed.), 5 (4): 465–472, doi: 10.1214/ss/1177012031 , MR   1092986