Spearman's rho - overview

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Spearman's rho
McNemar's test
Variable 1Independent variable
One of ordinal level2 paired groups
Variable 2Dependent variable
One of ordinal levelOne categorical with 2 independent groups
Null hypothesisNull hypothesis
H0: $\rho_s = 0$

Here $\rho_s$ is the Spearman correlation in the population. The Spearman correlation is a measure for the strength and direction of the monotonic relationship between two variables of at least ordinal measurement level.

In words, the null hypothesis would be:

H0: there is no monotonic relationship between the two variables in the population.

Let's say that the scores on the dependent variable are scored 0 and 1. Then for each pair of scores, the data allow four options:

  1. First score of pair is 0, second score of pair is 0
  2. First score of pair is 0, second score of pair is 1 (switched)
  3. First score of pair is 1, second score of pair is 0 (switched)
  4. First score of pair is 1, second score of pair is 1
The null hypothesis H0 is that for each pair of scores, P(first score of pair is 0 while second score of pair is 1) = P(first score of pair is 1 while second score of pair is 0). That is, the probability that a pair of scores switches from 0 to 1 is the same as the probability that a pair of scores switches from 1 to 0.

Other formulations of the null hypothesis are:

  • H0: $\pi_1 = \pi_2$, where $\pi_1$ is the population proportion of ones for the first paired group and $\pi_2$ is the population proportion of ones for the second paired group
  • H0: for each pair of scores, P(first score of pair is 1) = P(second score of pair is 1)

Alternative hypothesisAlternative hypothesis
H1 two sided: $\rho_s \neq 0$
H1 right sided: $\rho_s > 0$
H1 left sided: $\rho_s < 0$

The alternative hypothesis H1 is that for each pair of scores, P(first score of pair is 0 while second score of pair is 1) $\neq$ P(first score of pair is 1 while second score of pair is 0). That is, the probability that a pair of scores switches from 0 to 1 is not the same as the probability that a pair of scores switches from 1 to 0.

Other formulations of the alternative hypothesis are:

  • H1: $\pi_1 \neq \pi_2$
  • H1: for each pair of scores, P(first score of pair is 1) $\neq$ P(second score of pair is 1)

AssumptionsAssumptions
  • Sample of pairs is a simple random sample from the population of pairs. That is, pairs are independent of one another
Note: this assumption is only important for the significance test, not for the correlation coefficient itself. The correlation coefficient itself just measures the strength of the monotonic relationship between two variables.
  • Sample of pairs is a simple random sample from the population of pairs. That is, pairs are independent of one another
Test statisticTest statistic
$t = \dfrac{r_s \times \sqrt{N - 2}}{\sqrt{1 - r_s^2}} $
Here $r_s$ is the sample Spearman correlation and $N$ is the sample size. The sample Spearman correlation $r_s$ is equal to the Pearson correlation applied to the rank scores.
$X^2 = \dfrac{(b - c)^2}{b + c}$
Here $b$ is the number of pairs in the sample for which the first score is 0 while the second score is 1, and $c$ is the number of pairs in the sample for which the first score is 1 while the second score is 0.
Sampling distribution of $t$ if H0 were trueSampling distribution of $X^2$ if H0 were true
Approximately the $t$ distribution with $N - 2$ degrees of freedom

If $b + c$ is large enough (say, > 20), approximately the chi-squared distribution with 1 degree of freedom.

If $b + c$ is small, the Binomial($n$, $P$) distribution should be used, with $n = b + c$ and $P = 0.5$. In that case the test statistic becomes equal to $b$.

Significant?Significant?
Two sided: Right sided: Left sided: For test statistic $X^2$:
  • Check if $X^2$ observed in sample is equal to or larger than critical value $X^{2*}$ or
  • Find $p$ value corresponding to observed $X^2$ and check if it is equal to or smaller than $\alpha$
If $b + c$ is small, the table for the binomial distribution should be used, with as test statistic $b$:
  • Check if $b$ observed in sample is in the rejection region or
  • Find two sided $p$ value corresponding to observed $b$ and check if it is equal to or smaller than $\alpha$
n.a.Equivalent to
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Example contextExample context
Is there a monotonic relationship between physical health and mental health?Does a tv documentary about spiders change whether people are afraid (yes/no) of spiders?
SPSSSPSS
Analyze > Correlate > Bivariate...
  • Put your two variables in the box below Variables
  • Under Correlation Coefficients, select Spearman
Analyze > Nonparametric Tests > Legacy Dialogs > 2 Related Samples...
  • Put the two paired variables in the boxes below Variable 1 and Variable 2
  • Under Test Type, select the McNemar test
JamoviJamovi
Regression > Correlation Matrix
  • Put your two variables in the white box at the right
  • Under Correlation Coefficients, select Spearman
  • Under Hypothesis, select your alternative hypothesis
Frequencies > Paired Samples - McNemar test
  • Put one of the two paired variables in the box below Rows and the other paired variable in the box below Columns
Practice questionsPractice questions