Research Series: We like science here on The George Center Blog. We love talking about music therapy research, and for good reason. Music therapy is a field that's based in evidence-based research, meaning that the techniques we use are supported by scientific experiments conducted by music therapists and other researchers throughout the world. Maintaining this level of research is not easy or cheap, but as a field it's vital we maintain this dedication to evidence-based interventions. Otherwise, we cannot ethically say that what we do...works.
As a result of this dedication, music therapy students get a heavy dose of research courses in both undergrad and graduate programs. But all this research talk comes with a lot of jargon that can get confusing. Let's detangle some of this research jargon! Here's part 3 of our series on research terminology, "sample size."
Allow me to break away from music talk for a minute and talk about my other love: sports. When discussing sample size, there's one sport that is the perfect example.
That sport is baseball.
Baseball is the ultimate statistical sport. The favorite game of stat nerds. Here's why:
Professional football teams in the NFL play 16 games in a season. Baseball teams play 10 times that amount. 162 games.
That's a lot of games! So why does that make it a statistician's dream? All because of the all important sample size.
Sample size is the amount of measurements of whatever it is we're observing. In our baseball example, it might be batting average. Having a larger sample size reduces the likelihood of random occurrences (remember significance?) skewing our results.
In football, a team may lose a game as a result of a random, unavoidable fumble. Maybe it was raining and the ball was wet. As a result of this one single random occurrence, their whole season could be derailed. They might be the best team in the league that year, but because of that freak incident, they don't win the championship. With only 16 games, it's bound to happen.
But with baseball teams, a single incident very rarely has a major effect on a season. Unless you're the Atlanta Braves. sigh.
When you play 162 games, those freak occurrences get buried by the sheer number of other games played. We call this regression to the mean (mean = average).
The Atlanta Braves are, sadly, experiencing this phenomenon right now, coming down off their incredible 12-1 start, they've gone on to lose 8 of their last 11 games. They've certainly regressed towards the mean. This could happen the other way too. A team might experience an uncharacteristic losing streak, but later find themselves clawing back. Baseball's large sample size dictates this.
So why is this important for research? What can happen when we have a small sample size? In the spirit of music therapy, let's use a song that never ceases to crack me up give us some examples:
When you have a small sample size, you can get results that are not indicative of the truth.
In research, sample size refers to the number of participants or measurements in a study. Typically in a music therapy study, the sample size is the number of participants in the study, such as the number of people in a music group and control group.
When reading a study, you'll see this number referred to as the "n," written as "n = 132" if there were 132 people in the study.
And here's where we run into difficulties when it comes to music therapy research. As we've discussed in previous posts, big pharmaceutical companies have vast research budgets, which allows them to do large scale studies with lots of participants. BIG sample sizes.
Sadly, music therapy doesn't quite have that kind of money. Plus, we work in sort of a niche field. So gathering large amounts of participants for research study can prove difficult. This is one of the criticisms of some music therapy research (not all, mind you, many studies have used large samples).
However, research in our field is growing daily (just take a look at our weekly Monday Round Ups!), it just takes time.
So there you have it! Sample size! You know, it might be an important thing to keep in mind next time you meet someone who makes a bad first impression...
All this music therapy research is cool, but how is it practical and applicable to you? We'd love to tell you more about what we do with our clients everyday! Sign up for a free consultation!
Image credit: Sean Winters