Pearson correlation - overview

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Pearson correlation
Mann-Whitney-Wilcoxon test
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 of ordinal 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.
If the dependent variable is measured on a continuous scale and the shape of the distribution of the dependent variable is the same in both populations:
  • H0: the population median for group 1 is equal to the population median for group 2
Else:
Formulation 1:
  • H0: the population scores in group 1 are not systematically higher or lower than the population scores in group 2
Formulation 2:
  • H0: P(an observation from population 1 exceeds an observation from population 2) = P(an observation from population 2 exceeds observation from population 1)
Several different formulations of the null hypothesis can be found in the literature, and we do not agree with all of them. Make sure you (also) learn the one that is given in your text book or by your teacher.
Alternative hypothesisAlternative hypothesis
H1 two sided: $\rho \neq \rho_0$
H1 right sided: $\rho > \rho_0$
H1 left sided: $\rho < \rho_0$
If the dependent variable is measured on a continuous scale and the shape of the distribution of the dependent variable is the same in both populations:
  • H1 two sided: the population median for group 1 is not equal to the population median for group 2
  • H1 right sided: the population median for group 1 is larger than the population median for group 2
  • H1 left sided: the population median for group 1 is smaller than the population median for group 2
Else:
Formulation 1:
  • H1 two sided: the population scores in group 1 are systematically higher or lower than the population scores in group 2
  • H1 right sided: the population scores in group 1 are systematically higher than the population scores in group 2
  • H1 left sided: the population scores in group 1 are systematically lower than the population scores in group 2
Formulation 2:
  • H1 two sided: P(an observation from population 1 exceeds an observation from population 2) $\neq$ P(an observation from population 2 exceeds an observation from population 1)
  • H1 right sided: P(an observation from population 1 exceeds an observation from population 2) > P(an observation from population 2 exceeds an observation from population 1)
  • H1 left sided: P(an observation from population 1 exceeds an observation from population 2) < P(an observation from population 2 exceeds an observation from population 1)
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.
  • 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
Two different types of test statistics can be used; both will result in the same test outcome. The first is the Wilcoxon rank sum statistic $W$: The second type of test statistic is the Mann-Whitney $U$ statistic:
  • $U = W - \dfrac{n_1(n_1 + 1)}{2}$
where $n_1$ is the sample size of group 1.

Note: we could just as well base W and U on group 2. This would only 'flip' the right and left sided alternative hypotheses. Also, tables with critical values for $U$ are often based on the smaller of $U$ for group 1 and for group 2.
Sampling distribution of $t$ and of $z$ if H0 were trueSampling distribution of $W$ and of $U$ 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

Sampling distribution of $W$:
For large samples, $W$ is approximately normally distributed with mean $\mu_W$ and standard deviation $\sigma_W$ if the null hypothesis were true. Here $$ \begin{aligned} \mu_W &= \dfrac{n_1(n_1 + n_2 + 1)}{2}\\ \sigma_W &= \sqrt{\dfrac{n_1 n_2(n_1 + n_2 + 1)}{12}} \end{aligned} $$ Hence, for large samples, the standardized test statistic $$ z_W = \dfrac{W - \mu_W}{\sigma_W}\\ $$ follows approximately the standard normal distribution if the null hypothesis were true. Note that if your $W$ value is based on group 2, $\mu_W$ becomes $\frac{n_2(n_1 + n_2 + 1)}{2}$.

Sampling distribution of $U$:
For large samples, $U$ is approximately normally distributed with mean $\mu_U$ and standard deviation $\sigma_U$ if the null hypothesis were true. Here $$ \begin{aligned} \mu_U &= \dfrac{n_1 n_2}{2}\\ \sigma_U &= \sqrt{\dfrac{n_1 n_2(n_1 + n_2 + 1)}{12}} \end{aligned} $$ Hence, for large samples, the standardized test statistic $$ z_U = \dfrac{U - \mu_U}{\sigma_U}\\ $$ follows approximately the standard normal distribution if the null hypothesis were true.

For small samples, the exact distribution of $W$ or $U$ should be used.

Note: if ties are present in the data, the formula for the standard deviations $\sigma_W$ and $\sigma_U$ is more complicated.
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: For large samples, the table for standard normal probabilities can be used:
Two sided: Right sided: Left sided:
Approximate $C$% confidence interval for $\rho$n.a.
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 = $\dfrac{e^{2 \times upper_{Fisher}} - 1}{e^{2 \times upper_{Fisher}} + 1}$
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Properties of the Pearson correlation coefficientn.a.
  • 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.
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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 $H_0$: $\rho = 0$
If there are no ties in the data, the two sided Mann-Whitney-Wilcoxon test is equivalent to the Kruskal-Wallis test with an independent variable with 2 levels ($I$ = 2).
Example contextExample context
Is there a linear relationship between physical health and mental health?Do men tend to score higher on social economic status than women?
SPSSSPSS
Analyze > Correlate > Bivariate...
  • Put your two variables in the box below Variables
Analyze > Nonparametric Tests > Legacy Dialogs > 2 Independent Samples...
  • Put your dependent variable in the box below Test Variable List 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 variable in the box below Dependent Variables and your independent (grouping) variable in the box below Grouping Variable
  • Under Tests, select Mann-Whitney U
  • Under Hypothesis, select your alternative hypothesis
Practice questionsPractice questions