# Interpreting Hypothesis Tests

Learn how to interpret hypothesis tests.

## We'll cover the following

Interpreting the results of hypothesis tests is one of the more challenging aspects of this method for statistical inference. Let’s understand the process and address some common misconceptions.

## Two possible outcomes

Given a prespecified significance level

If the

$p$ -value is less than$\alpha$ , then we reject the null hypothesis$H_0$ in favor of$H_A$ .If the

$p$ -value is greater than or equal to$\alpha$ , we$H_0$ .

Unfortunately, the latter result is often misinterpreted as accepting the null hypothesis

To further shed light on this distinction, let’s use the United States criminal justice system as an analogy. A criminal trial in the United States is a similar situation to hypothesis tests whereby a choice between two contradictory claims must be made about a defendant who’s on trial:

The defendant is truly either innocent or guilty.

The defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty.

The defendant is found guilty only if there’s strong evidence that the defendant is guilty. The phrase “beyond a reasonable doubt” is often used as a guideline for determining a cutoff for when enough evidence exists to find the defendant guilty.

The defendant is found to be either not guilty or guilty in the ultimate verdict.

In other words, *not guilty* verdicts aren’t suggesting the defendant is *innocent*, but instead that “while the defendant may still actually be guilty, there wasn’t enough evidence to prove this fact.” Now let’s make the connection with hypothesis tests:

Either the null hypothesis

$H_0$ or the alternative hypothesis$H_A$ is true.Hypothesis tests are conducted assuming the null hypothesis

$H_0$ is true.We reject the null hypothesis

$H_0$ in favor of$H_A$ only if the evidence found in the sample suggests that$H_A$ is true. The significance level$\alpha$ is used as a guideline to set the threshold for the strength of evidence we require.We ultimately decide to either fail to reject

$H_0$ or reject$H_0$ .

So while gut instinct may suggest failing to reject

So going back to our résumés activity, recall our hypothesis test

## Types of errors

Unfortunately, there is some chance a jury or a judge can make an incorrect decision in a criminal trial by reaching the wrong verdict. For example, finding a truly innocent defendant guilty or on the other hand, finding a truly guilty defendant not guilty. This can often stem from the fact that prosecutors don’t have access to all the relevant evidence but instead are limited to whatever evidence the police can find.

The same holds for hypothesis tests where we can make incorrect decisions about a population parameter because we only have a sample of data from the population. Thus, sampling variation can lead us to incorrect conclusions.

There are two possible erroneous conclusions in a criminal trial. Firstly, a truly innocent person is found guilty or secondly, a truly guilty person is found not guilty. Similarly, there are two possible errors in a hypothesis test. Firstly, rejecting **Type I error**. Secondly, failing to reject **Type II error**. Another term used for Type I error is **false positive**, while another term for Type II error is **false negative**.

This risk of error is the price researchers pay for basing inference on a sample instead of performing a census on the entire population. However, as we’ve seen in our numerous examples and activities so far, censuses are often very expensive and other times impossible. Therefore, researchers have no choice but to use a sample. In any hypothesis test based on a sample, we have no choice but to tolerate some chance that a Type I error will be made and some chance that a Type II error will occur.

To help understand the concepts of Type I errors and Type II errors, we apply these terms to our criminal justice analogy in the figure below:

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