Sign test - overview

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Sign test
Two sample $t$ test - equal variances assumed
Independent variableIndependent/grouping variable
2 paired groupsOne categorical with 2 independent groups
Dependent variableDependent variable
One of ordinal levelOne quantitative of interval or ratio level
Null hypothesisNull hypothesis
  • H0: P(first score of a pair exceeds second score of a pair) = P(second score of a pair exceeds first score of a pair)
If the dependent variable is measured on a continuous scale, this can also be formulated as:
  • H0: the population median of the difference scores is equal to zero
A difference score is the difference between the first score of a pair and the second score of a pair.
H0: $\mu_1 = \mu_2$

$\mu_1$ is the population mean for group 1, $\mu_2$ is the population mean for group 2
Alternative hypothesisAlternative hypothesis
  • H1 two sided: P(first score of a pair exceeds second score of a pair) $\neq$ P(second score of a pair exceeds first score of a pair)
  • H1 right sided: P(first score of a pair exceeds second score of a pair) > P(second score of a pair exceeds first score of a pair)
  • H1 left sided: P(first score of a pair exceeds second score of a pair) < P(second score of a pair exceeds first score of a pair)
If the dependent variable is measured on a continuous scale, this can also be formulated as:
  • H1 two sided: the population median of the difference scores is different from zero
  • H1 right sided: the population median of the difference scores is larger than zero
  • H1 left sided: the population median of the difference scores is smaller than zero
H1 two sided: $\mu_1 \neq \mu_2$
H1 right sided: $\mu_1 > \mu_2$
H1 left sided: $\mu_1 < \mu_2$
AssumptionsAssumptions
  • Sample of pairs is a simple random sample from the population of pairs. That is, pairs are independent of one another
  • 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
$W = $ number of difference scores that is larger than 0$t = \dfrac{(\bar{y}_1 - \bar{y}_2) - 0}{s_p\sqrt{\dfrac{1}{n_1} + \dfrac{1}{n_2}}} = \dfrac{\bar{y}_1 - \bar{y}_2}{s_p\sqrt{\dfrac{1}{n_1} + \dfrac{1}{n_2}}}$
$\bar{y}_1$ 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, $n_2$ 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 $W$ if H0 were trueSampling distribution of $t$ if H0 were true
The exact distribution of $W$ under the null hypothesis is the Binomial($n$, $p$) distribution, with $n =$ number of positive differences $+$ number of negative differences, and $p = 0.5$.

If $n$ is large, $W$ is approximately normally distributed under the null hypothesis, with mean $np = n \times 0.5$ and standard deviation $\sqrt{np(1-p)} = \sqrt{n \times 0.5(1 - 0.5)}$. Hence, if $n$ is large, the standardized test statistic $$z = \frac{W - n \times 0.5}{\sqrt{n \times 0.5(1 - 0.5)}}$$ follows approximately the standard normal distribution if the null hypothesis were true.
$t$ distribution with $n_1 + n_2 - 2$ degrees of freedom
Significant?Significant?
If $n$ is small, the table for the binomial distribution should be used:
Two sided:
  • Check if $W$ observed in sample is in the rejection region or
  • Find two sided $p$ value corresponding to observed $W$ and check if it is equal to or smaller than $\alpha$
Right sided:
  • Check if $W$ observed in sample is in the rejection region or
  • Find right sided $p$ value corresponding to observed $W$ and check if it is equal to or smaller than $\alpha$
Left sided:
  • Check if $W$ observed in sample is in the rejection region or
  • Find left sided $p$ value corresponding to observed $W$ and check if it is equal to or smaller than $\alpha$

If $n$ is large, the table for standard normal probabilities can be used:
Two sided: Right sided: Left sided:
Two sided: Right sided: Left sided:
n.a.$C\%$ confidence interval for $\mu_1 - \mu_2$
-$(\bar{y}_1 - \bar{y}_2) \pm t^* \times s_p\sqrt{\dfrac{1}{n_1} + \dfrac{1}{n_2}}$
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.
n.a.Effect size
-Cohen's $d$:
Standardized difference between the mean in group $1$ and in group $2$: $$d = \frac{\bar{y}_1 - \bar{y}_2}{s_p}$$ Indicates how many standard deviations $s_p$ the two sample means are removed from each other
n.a.Visual representation
-
Two sample t test - equal variances assumed
Equivalent toEquivalent to
Two sided sign test is equivalent to One way ANOVA with an independent variable with 2 levels ($I$ = 2):
  • two sided two sample $t$ test equivalent to ANOVA $F$ test when $I$ = 2
  • two sample $t$ test equivalent to $t$ test for contrast when $I$ = 2
  • two sample $t$ test 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 equivalent to $F$ test regression model
  • two sample $t$ test equivalent to $t$ test for regression coefficient $\beta_1$
Example contextExample context
Do people tend to score higher on mental health after a mindfulness course?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 > 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 Sign test
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
Jamovi does not have a specific option for the sign test. However, you can do the Friedman test instead. The $p$ value resulting from this Friedman test is equivalent to the two sided $p$ value that would have resulted from the sign test. Go to:

ANOVA > Repeated Measures ANOVA - Friedman
  • Put the two paired variables in the box below Measures
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