Pearson correlation - overview

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Pearson correlation
Two sample $t$ test - equal variances assumed
Variable 1Independent/grouping variable
One quantitative of interval or ratio levelOne categorical with 2 independent groups
Variable 2Dependent variable
One quantitative of interval or ratio levelOne quantitative of interval or ratio level
Null hypothesisNull hypothesis
H0: $\rho = \rho_0$

Here $\rho$ is the Pearson correlation in the population, and $\rho_0$ is the Pearson correlation in the population according to the null hypothesis (usually 0). The Pearson correlation is a measure for the strength and direction of the linear relationship between two variables of at least interval measurement level.
H0: $\mu_1 = \mu_2$

Here $\mu_1$ is the population mean for group 1, and $\mu_2$ is the population mean for group 2.
Alternative hypothesisAlternative hypothesis
H1 two sided: $\rho \neq \rho_0$
H1 right sided: $\rho > \rho_0$
H1 left sided: $\rho < \rho_0$
H1 two sided: $\mu_1 \neq \mu_2$
H1 right sided: $\mu_1 > \mu_2$
H1 left sided: $\mu_1 < \mu_2$
Assumptions of test for correlationAssumptions
  • In the population, the two variables are jointly normally distributed (this covers the normality, homoscedasticity, and linearity assumptions)
  • Sample of pairs is a simple random sample from the population of pairs. That is, pairs are independent of one another
Note: these assumptions are only important for the significance test and confidence interval, not for the correlation coefficient itself. The correlation coefficient just measures the strength of the linear relationship between two variables.
  • Within each population, the scores on the dependent variable are normally distributed
  • The standard deviation of the scores on the dependent variable is the same in both populations: $\sigma_1 = \sigma_2$
  • Group 1 sample is a simple random sample (SRS) from population 1, group 2 sample is an independent SRS from population 2. That is, within and between groups, observations are independent of one another
Test statisticTest statistic
Test statistic for testing H0: $\rho = 0$:
  • $t = \dfrac{r \times \sqrt{N - 2}}{\sqrt{1 - r^2}} $
    where $r$ is the sample correlation $r = \frac{1}{N - 1} \sum_{j}\Big(\frac{x_{j} - \bar{x}}{s_x} \Big) \Big(\frac{y_{j} - \bar{y}}{s_y} \Big)$ and $N$ is the sample size
Test statistic for testing values for $\rho$ other than $\rho = 0$:
  • $z = \dfrac{r_{Fisher} - \rho_{0_{Fisher}}}{\sqrt{\dfrac{1}{N - 3}}}$
    • $r_{Fisher} = \dfrac{1}{2} \times \log\Bigg(\dfrac{1 + r}{1 - r} \Bigg )$, where $r$ is the sample correlation
    • $\rho_{0_{Fisher}} = \dfrac{1}{2} \times \log\Bigg( \dfrac{1 + \rho_0}{1 - \rho_0} \Bigg )$, where $\rho_0$ is the population correlation according to H0
$t = \dfrac{(\bar{y}_1 - \bar{y}_2) - 0}{s_p\sqrt{\dfrac{1}{n_1} + \dfrac{1}{n_2}}} = \dfrac{\bar{y}_1 - \bar{y}_2}{s_p\sqrt{\dfrac{1}{n_1} + \dfrac{1}{n_2}}}$
Here $\bar{y}_1$ is the sample mean in group 1, $\bar{y}_2$ is the sample mean in group 2, $s_p$ is the pooled standard deviation, $n_1$ is the sample size of group 1, and $n_2$ is the sample size of group 2. The 0 represents the difference in population means according to the null hypothesis.

The denominator $s_p\sqrt{\dfrac{1}{n_1} + \dfrac{1}{n_2}}$ is the standard error of the sampling distribution of $\bar{y}_1 - \bar{y}_2$. The $t$ value indicates how many standard errors $\bar{y}_1 - \bar{y}_2$ is removed from 0.

Note: we could just as well compute $\bar{y}_2 - \bar{y}_1$ in the numerator, but then the left sided alternative becomes $\mu_2 < \mu_1$, and the right sided alternative becomes $\mu_2 > \mu_1$.
n.a.Pooled standard deviation
-$s_p = \sqrt{\dfrac{(n_1 - 1) \times s^2_1 + (n_2 - 1) \times s^2_2}{n_1 + n_2 - 2}}$
Sampling distribution of $t$ and of $z$ if H0 were trueSampling distribution of $t$ if H0 were true
Sampling distribution of $t$:
  • $t$ distribution with $N - 2$ degrees of freedom
Sampling distribution of $z$:
  • Approximately the standard normal distribution
$t$ distribution with $n_1 + n_2 - 2$ degrees of freedom
Significant?Significant?
$t$ Test two sided: $t$ Test right sided: $t$ Test left sided: $z$ Test two sided: $z$ Test right sided: $z$ Test left sided: Two sided: Right sided: Left sided:
Approximate $C$% confidence interval for $\rho$$C\%$ confidence interval for $\mu_1 - \mu_2$
First compute the approximate $C$% confidence interval for $\rho_{Fisher}$:
  • $lower_{Fisher} = r_{Fisher} - z^* \times \sqrt{\dfrac{1}{N - 3}}$
  • $upper_{Fisher} = r_{Fisher} + z^* \times \sqrt{\dfrac{1}{N - 3}}$
where $r_{Fisher} = \frac{1}{2} \times \log\Bigg(\dfrac{1 + r}{1 - r} \Bigg )$ and the critical value $z^*$ is the value under the normal curve with the area $C / 100$ between $-z^*$ and $z^*$ (e.g. $z^*$ = 1.96 for a 95% confidence interval).
Then transform back to get the approximate $C$% confidence interval for $\rho$:
  • lower bound = $\dfrac{e^{2 \times lower_{Fisher}} - 1}{e^{2 \times lower_{Fisher}} + 1}$
  • upper bound = $\dfrac{e^{2 \times upper_{Fisher}} - 1}{e^{2 \times upper_{Fisher}} + 1}$
$(\bar{y}_1 - \bar{y}_2) \pm t^* \times s_p\sqrt{\dfrac{1}{n_1} + \dfrac{1}{n_2}}$
where the critical value $t^*$ is the value under the $t_{n_1 + n_2 - 2}$ distribution with the area $C / 100$ between $-t^*$ and $t^*$ (e.g. $t^*$ = 2.086 for a 95% confidence interval when df = 20).

The confidence interval for $\mu_1 - \mu_2$ can also be used as significance test.
Properties of the Pearson correlation coefficientEffect size
  • The Pearson correlation coefficient is a measure for the linear relationship between two quantitative variables.
  • The Pearson correlation coefficient squared reflects the proportion of variance explained in one variable by the other variable.
  • The Pearson correlation coefficient can take on values between -1 (perfect negative relationship) and 1 (perfect positive relationship). A value of 0 means no linear relationship.
  • The absolute size of the Pearson correlation coefficient is not affected by any linear transformation of the variables. However, the sign of the Pearson correlation will flip when the scores on one of the two variables are multiplied by a negative number (reversing the direction of measurement of that variable).
    For example:
    • the correlation between $x$ and $y$ is equivalent to the correlation between $3x + 5$ and $2y - 6$.
    • the absolute value of the correlation between $x$ and $y$ is equivalent to the absolute value of the correlation between $-3x + 5$ and $2y - 6$. However, the signs of the two correlation coefficients will be in opposite directions, due to the multiplication of $x$ by $-3$.
  • The Pearson correlation coefficient does not say anything about causality.
  • The Pearson correlation coefficient is sensitive to outliers.
Cohen's $d$:
Standardized difference between the mean in group $1$ and in group $2$: $$d = \frac{\bar{y}_1 - \bar{y}_2}{s_p}$$ Cohen's $d$ indicates how many standard deviations $s_p$ the two sample means are removed from each other.
n.a.Visual representation
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Two sample t test - equal variances assumed
Equivalent toEquivalent to
OLS regression with one independent variable:
  • $b_1 = r \times \frac{s_y}{s_x}$
  • Results significance test ($t$ and $p$ value) testing $H_0$: $\beta_1 = 0$ are equivalent to results significance test testing $H_0$: $\rho = 0$
One way ANOVA with an independent variable with 2 levels ($I$ = 2):
  • two sided two sample $t$ test is equivalent to ANOVA $F$ test when $I$ = 2
  • two sample $t$ test is equivalent to $t$ test for contrast when $I$ = 2
  • two sample $t$ test is equivalent to $t$ test multiple comparisons when $I$ = 2
OLS regression with one categorical independent variable with 2 levels:
  • two sided two sample $t$ test is equivalent to $F$ test regression model
  • two sample $t$ test is equivalent to $t$ test for regression coefficient $\beta_1$
Example contextExample context
Is there a linear relationship between physical health and mental health?Is the average mental health score different between men and women? Assume that in the population, the standard deviation of mental health scores is equal amongst men and women.
SPSSSPSS
Analyze > Correlate > Bivariate...
  • Put your two variables in the box below Variables
Analyze > Compare Means > Independent-Samples T Test...
  • Put your dependent (quantitative) variable in the box below Test Variable(s) and your independent (grouping) variable in the box below Grouping Variable
  • Click on the Define Groups... button. If you can't click on it, first click on the grouping variable so its background turns yellow
  • Fill in the value you have used to indicate your first group in the box next to Group 1, and the value you have used to indicate your second group in the box next to Group 2
  • Continue and click OK
JamoviJamovi
Regression > Correlation Matrix
  • Put your two variables in the white box at the right
  • Under Correlation Coefficients, select Pearson (selected by default)
  • Under Hypothesis, select your alternative hypothesis
T-Tests > Independent Samples T-Test
  • Put your dependent (quantitative) variable in the box below Dependent Variables and your independent (grouping) variable in the box below Grouping Variable
  • Under Tests, select Student's (selected by default)
  • Under Hypothesis, select your alternative hypothesis
Practice questionsPractice questions