Random Assignment in Psychology (Definition + 40 Examples)

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Have you ever wondered how researchers discover new ways to help people learn, make decisions, or overcome challenges? A hidden hero in this adventure of discovery is a method called random assignment, a cornerstone in psychological research that helps scientists uncover the truths about the human mind and behavior.

Random Assignment is a process used in research where each participant has an equal chance of being placed in any group within the study. This technique is essential in experiments as it helps to eliminate biases, ensuring that the different groups being compared are similar in all important aspects.

By doing so, researchers can be confident that any differences observed are likely due to the variable being tested, rather than other factors.

In this article, we’ll explore the intriguing world of random assignment, diving into its history, principles, real-world examples, and the impact it has had on the field of psychology.

History of Random Assignment

two women in different conditions

Stepping back in time, we delve into the origins of random assignment, which finds its roots in the early 20th century.

The pioneering mind behind this innovative technique was Sir Ronald A. Fisher , a British statistician and biologist. Fisher introduced the concept of random assignment in the 1920s, aiming to improve the quality and reliability of experimental research .

His contributions laid the groundwork for the method's evolution and its widespread adoption in various fields, particularly in psychology.

Fisher’s groundbreaking work on random assignment was motivated by his desire to control for confounding variables – those pesky factors that could muddy the waters of research findings.

By assigning participants to different groups purely by chance, he realized that the influence of these confounding variables could be minimized, paving the way for more accurate and trustworthy results.

Early Studies Utilizing Random Assignment

Following Fisher's initial development, random assignment started to gain traction in the research community. Early studies adopting this methodology focused on a variety of topics, from agriculture (which was Fisher’s primary field of interest) to medicine and psychology.

The approach allowed researchers to draw stronger conclusions from their experiments, bolstering the development of new theories and practices.

One notable early study utilizing random assignment was conducted in the field of educational psychology. Researchers were keen to understand the impact of different teaching methods on student outcomes.

By randomly assigning students to various instructional approaches, they were able to isolate the effects of the teaching methods, leading to valuable insights and recommendations for educators.

Evolution of the Methodology

As the decades rolled on, random assignment continued to evolve and adapt to the changing landscape of research.

Advances in technology introduced new tools and techniques for implementing randomization, such as computerized random number generators, which offered greater precision and ease of use.

The application of random assignment expanded beyond the confines of the laboratory, finding its way into field studies and large-scale surveys.

Researchers across diverse disciplines embraced the methodology, recognizing its potential to enhance the validity of their findings and contribute to the advancement of knowledge.

From its humble beginnings in the early 20th century to its widespread use today, random assignment has proven to be a cornerstone of scientific inquiry.

Its development and evolution have played a pivotal role in shaping the landscape of psychological research, driving discoveries that have improved lives and deepened our understanding of the human experience.

Principles of Random Assignment

Delving into the heart of random assignment, we uncover the theories and principles that form its foundation.

The method is steeped in the basics of probability theory and statistical inference, ensuring that each participant has an equal chance of being placed in any group, thus fostering fair and unbiased results.

Basic Principles of Random Assignment

Understanding the core principles of random assignment is key to grasping its significance in research. There are three principles: equal probability of selection, reduction of bias, and ensuring representativeness.

The first principle, equal probability of selection , ensures that every participant has an identical chance of being assigned to any group in the study. This randomness is crucial as it mitigates the risk of bias and establishes a level playing field.

The second principle focuses on the reduction of bias . Random assignment acts as a safeguard, ensuring that the groups being compared are alike in all essential aspects before the experiment begins.

This similarity between groups allows researchers to attribute any differences observed in the outcomes directly to the independent variable being studied.

Lastly, ensuring representativeness is a vital principle. When participants are assigned randomly, the resulting groups are more likely to be representative of the larger population.

This characteristic is crucial for the generalizability of the study’s findings, allowing researchers to apply their insights broadly.

Theoretical Foundation

The theoretical foundation of random assignment lies in probability theory and statistical inference .

Probability theory deals with the likelihood of different outcomes, providing a mathematical framework for analyzing random phenomena. In the context of random assignment, it helps in ensuring that each participant has an equal chance of being placed in any group.

Statistical inference, on the other hand, allows researchers to draw conclusions about a population based on a sample of data drawn from that population. It is the mechanism through which the results of a study can be generalized to a broader context.

Random assignment enhances the reliability of statistical inferences by reducing biases and ensuring that the sample is representative.

Differentiating Random Assignment from Random Selection

It’s essential to distinguish between random assignment and random selection, as the two terms, while related, have distinct meanings in the realm of research.

Random assignment refers to how participants are placed into different groups in an experiment, aiming to control for confounding variables and help determine causes.

In contrast, random selection pertains to how individuals are chosen to participate in a study. This method is used to ensure that the sample of participants is representative of the larger population, which is vital for the external validity of the research.

While both methods are rooted in randomness and probability, they serve different purposes in the research process.

Understanding the theories, principles, and distinctions of random assignment illuminates its pivotal role in psychological research.

This method, anchored in probability theory and statistical inference, serves as a beacon of reliability, guiding researchers in their quest for knowledge and ensuring that their findings stand the test of validity and applicability.

Methodology of Random Assignment

woman sleeping with a brain monitor

Implementing random assignment in a study is a meticulous process that involves several crucial steps.

The initial step is participant selection, where individuals are chosen to partake in the study. This stage is critical to ensure that the pool of participants is diverse and representative of the population the study aims to generalize to.

Once the pool of participants has been established, the actual assignment process begins. In this step, each participant is allocated randomly to one of the groups in the study.

Researchers use various tools, such as random number generators or computerized methods, to ensure that this assignment is genuinely random and free from biases.

Monitoring and adjusting form the final step in the implementation of random assignment. Researchers need to continuously observe the groups to ensure that they remain comparable in all essential aspects throughout the study.

If any significant discrepancies arise, adjustments might be necessary to maintain the study’s integrity and validity.

Tools and Techniques Used

The evolution of technology has introduced a variety of tools and techniques to facilitate random assignment.

Random number generators, both manual and computerized, are commonly used to assign participants to different groups. These generators ensure that each individual has an equal chance of being placed in any group, upholding the principle of equal probability of selection.

In addition to random number generators, researchers often use specialized computer software designed for statistical analysis and experimental design.

These software programs offer advanced features that allow for precise and efficient random assignment, minimizing the risk of human error and enhancing the study’s reliability.

Ethical Considerations

The implementation of random assignment is not devoid of ethical considerations. Informed consent is a fundamental ethical principle that researchers must uphold.

Informed consent means that every participant should be fully informed about the nature of the study, the procedures involved, and any potential risks or benefits, ensuring that they voluntarily agree to participate.

Beyond informed consent, researchers must conduct a thorough risk and benefit analysis. The potential benefits of the study should outweigh any risks or harms to the participants.

Safeguarding the well-being of participants is paramount, and any study employing random assignment must adhere to established ethical guidelines and standards.

Conclusion of Methodology

The methodology of random assignment, while seemingly straightforward, is a multifaceted process that demands precision, fairness, and ethical integrity. From participant selection to assignment and monitoring, each step is crucial to ensure the validity of the study’s findings.

The tools and techniques employed, coupled with a steadfast commitment to ethical principles, underscore the significance of random assignment as a cornerstone of robust psychological research.

Benefits of Random Assignment in Psychological Research

The impact and importance of random assignment in psychological research cannot be overstated. It is fundamental for ensuring the study is accurate, allowing the researchers to determine if their study actually caused the results they saw, and making sure the findings can be applied to the real world.

Facilitating Causal Inferences

When participants are randomly assigned to different groups, researchers can be more confident that the observed effects are due to the independent variable being changed, and not other factors.

This ability to determine the cause is called causal inference .

This confidence allows for the drawing of causal relationships, which are foundational for theory development and application in psychology.

Ensuring Internal Validity

One of the foremost impacts of random assignment is its ability to enhance the internal validity of an experiment.

Internal validity refers to the extent to which a researcher can assert that changes in the dependent variable are solely due to manipulations of the independent variable , and not due to confounding variables.

By ensuring that each participant has an equal chance of being in any condition of the experiment, random assignment helps control for participant characteristics that could otherwise complicate the results.

Enhancing Generalizability

Beyond internal validity, random assignment also plays a crucial role in enhancing the generalizability of research findings.

When done correctly, it ensures that the sample groups are representative of the larger population, so can allow researchers to apply their findings more broadly.

This representative nature is essential for the practical application of research, impacting policy, interventions, and psychological therapies.

Limitations of Random Assignment

Potential for implementation issues.

While the principles of random assignment are robust, the method can face implementation issues.

One of the most common problems is logistical constraints. Some studies, due to their nature or the specific population being studied, find it challenging to implement random assignment effectively.

For instance, in educational settings, logistical issues such as class schedules and school policies might stop the random allocation of students to different teaching methods .

Ethical Dilemmas

Random assignment, while methodologically sound, can also present ethical dilemmas.

In some cases, withholding a potentially beneficial treatment from one of the groups of participants can raise serious ethical questions, especially in medical or clinical research where participants' well-being might be directly affected.

Researchers must navigate these ethical waters carefully, balancing the pursuit of knowledge with the well-being of participants.

Generalizability Concerns

Even when implemented correctly, random assignment does not always guarantee generalizable results.

The types of people in the participant pool, the specific context of the study, and the nature of the variables being studied can all influence the extent to which the findings can be applied to the broader population.

Researchers must be cautious in making broad generalizations from studies, even those employing strict random assignment.

Practical and Real-World Limitations

In the real world, many variables cannot be manipulated for ethical or practical reasons, limiting the applicability of random assignment.

For instance, researchers cannot randomly assign individuals to different levels of intelligence, socioeconomic status, or cultural backgrounds.

This limitation necessitates the use of other research designs, such as correlational or observational studies , when exploring relationships involving such variables.

Response to Critiques

In response to these critiques, people in favor of random assignment argue that the method, despite its limitations, remains one of the most reliable ways to establish cause and effect in experimental research.

They acknowledge the challenges and ethical considerations but emphasize the rigorous frameworks in place to address them.

The ongoing discussion around the limitations and critiques of random assignment contributes to the evolution of the method, making sure it is continuously relevant and applicable in psychological research.

While random assignment is a powerful tool in experimental research, it is not without its critiques and limitations. Implementation issues, ethical dilemmas, generalizability concerns, and real-world limitations can pose significant challenges.

However, the continued discourse and refinement around these issues underline the method's enduring significance in the pursuit of knowledge in psychology.

By being careful with how we do things and doing what's right, random assignment stays a really important part of studying how people act and think.

Real-World Applications and Examples

man on a treadmill

Random assignment has been employed in many studies across various fields of psychology, leading to significant discoveries and advancements.

Here are some real-world applications and examples illustrating the diversity and impact of this method:

  • Medicine and Health Psychology: Randomized Controlled Trials (RCTs) are the gold standard in medical research. In these studies, participants are randomly assigned to either the treatment or control group to test the efficacy of new medications or interventions.
  • Educational Psychology: Studies in this field have used random assignment to explore the effects of different teaching methods, classroom environments, and educational technologies on student learning and outcomes.
  • Cognitive Psychology: Researchers have employed random assignment to investigate various aspects of human cognition, including memory, attention, and problem-solving, leading to a deeper understanding of how the mind works.
  • Social Psychology: Random assignment has been instrumental in studying social phenomena, such as conformity, aggression, and prosocial behavior, shedding light on the intricate dynamics of human interaction.

Let's get into some specific examples. You'll need to know one term though, and that is "control group." A control group is a set of participants in a study who do not receive the treatment or intervention being tested , serving as a baseline to compare with the group that does, in order to assess the effectiveness of the treatment.

  • Smoking Cessation Study: Researchers used random assignment to put participants into two groups. One group received a new anti-smoking program, while the other did not. This helped determine if the program was effective in helping people quit smoking.
  • Math Tutoring Program: A study on students used random assignment to place them into two groups. One group received additional math tutoring, while the other continued with regular classes, to see if the extra help improved their grades.
  • Exercise and Mental Health: Adults were randomly assigned to either an exercise group or a control group to study the impact of physical activity on mental health and mood.
  • Diet and Weight Loss: A study randomly assigned participants to different diet plans to compare their effectiveness in promoting weight loss and improving health markers.
  • Sleep and Learning: Researchers randomly assigned students to either a sleep extension group or a regular sleep group to study the impact of sleep on learning and memory.
  • Classroom Seating Arrangement: Teachers used random assignment to place students in different seating arrangements to examine the effect on focus and academic performance.
  • Music and Productivity: Employees were randomly assigned to listen to music or work in silence to investigate the effect of music on workplace productivity.
  • Medication for ADHD: Children with ADHD were randomly assigned to receive either medication, behavioral therapy, or a placebo to compare treatment effectiveness.
  • Mindfulness Meditation for Stress: Adults were randomly assigned to a mindfulness meditation group or a waitlist control group to study the impact on stress levels.
  • Video Games and Aggression: A study randomly assigned participants to play either violent or non-violent video games and then measured their aggression levels.
  • Online Learning Platforms: Students were randomly assigned to use different online learning platforms to evaluate their effectiveness in enhancing learning outcomes.
  • Hand Sanitizers in Schools: Schools were randomly assigned to use hand sanitizers or not to study the impact on student illness and absenteeism.
  • Caffeine and Alertness: Participants were randomly assigned to consume caffeinated or decaffeinated beverages to measure the effects on alertness and cognitive performance.
  • Green Spaces and Well-being: Neighborhoods were randomly assigned to receive green space interventions to study the impact on residents’ well-being and community connections.
  • Pet Therapy for Hospital Patients: Patients were randomly assigned to receive pet therapy or standard care to assess the impact on recovery and mood.
  • Yoga for Chronic Pain: Individuals with chronic pain were randomly assigned to a yoga intervention group or a control group to study the effect on pain levels and quality of life.
  • Flu Vaccines Effectiveness: Different groups of people were randomly assigned to receive either the flu vaccine or a placebo to determine the vaccine’s effectiveness.
  • Reading Strategies for Dyslexia: Children with dyslexia were randomly assigned to different reading intervention strategies to compare their effectiveness.
  • Physical Environment and Creativity: Participants were randomly assigned to different room setups to study the impact of physical environment on creative thinking.
  • Laughter Therapy for Depression: Individuals with depression were randomly assigned to laughter therapy sessions or control groups to assess the impact on mood.
  • Financial Incentives for Exercise: Participants were randomly assigned to receive financial incentives for exercising to study the impact on physical activity levels.
  • Art Therapy for Anxiety: Individuals with anxiety were randomly assigned to art therapy sessions or a waitlist control group to measure the effect on anxiety levels.
  • Natural Light in Offices: Employees were randomly assigned to workspaces with natural or artificial light to study the impact on productivity and job satisfaction.
  • School Start Times and Academic Performance: Schools were randomly assigned different start times to study the effect on student academic performance and well-being.
  • Horticulture Therapy for Seniors: Older adults were randomly assigned to participate in horticulture therapy or traditional activities to study the impact on cognitive function and life satisfaction.
  • Hydration and Cognitive Function: Participants were randomly assigned to different hydration levels to measure the impact on cognitive function and alertness.
  • Intergenerational Programs: Seniors and young people were randomly assigned to intergenerational programs to study the effects on well-being and cross-generational understanding.
  • Therapeutic Horseback Riding for Autism: Children with autism were randomly assigned to therapeutic horseback riding or traditional therapy to study the impact on social communication skills.
  • Active Commuting and Health: Employees were randomly assigned to active commuting (cycling, walking) or passive commuting to study the effect on physical health.
  • Mindful Eating for Weight Management: Individuals were randomly assigned to mindful eating workshops or control groups to study the impact on weight management and eating habits.
  • Noise Levels and Learning: Students were randomly assigned to classrooms with different noise levels to study the effect on learning and concentration.
  • Bilingual Education Methods: Schools were randomly assigned different bilingual education methods to compare their effectiveness in language acquisition.
  • Outdoor Play and Child Development: Children were randomly assigned to different amounts of outdoor playtime to study the impact on physical and cognitive development.
  • Social Media Detox: Participants were randomly assigned to a social media detox or regular usage to study the impact on mental health and well-being.
  • Therapeutic Writing for Trauma Survivors: Individuals who experienced trauma were randomly assigned to therapeutic writing sessions or control groups to study the impact on psychological well-being.
  • Mentoring Programs for At-risk Youth: At-risk youth were randomly assigned to mentoring programs or control groups to assess the impact on academic achievement and behavior.
  • Dance Therapy for Parkinson’s Disease: Individuals with Parkinson’s disease were randomly assigned to dance therapy or traditional exercise to study the effect on motor function and quality of life.
  • Aquaponics in Schools: Schools were randomly assigned to implement aquaponics programs to study the impact on student engagement and environmental awareness.
  • Virtual Reality for Phobia Treatment: Individuals with phobias were randomly assigned to virtual reality exposure therapy or traditional therapy to compare effectiveness.
  • Gardening and Mental Health: Participants were randomly assigned to engage in gardening or other leisure activities to study the impact on mental health and stress reduction.

Each of these studies exemplifies how random assignment is utilized in various fields and settings, shedding light on the multitude of ways it can be applied to glean valuable insights and knowledge.

Real-world Impact of Random Assignment

old lady gardening

Random assignment is like a key tool in the world of learning about people's minds and behaviors. It’s super important and helps in many different areas of our everyday lives. It helps make better rules, creates new ways to help people, and is used in lots of different fields.

Health and Medicine

In health and medicine, random assignment has helped doctors and scientists make lots of discoveries. It’s a big part of tests that help create new medicines and treatments.

By putting people into different groups by chance, scientists can really see if a medicine works.

This has led to new ways to help people with all sorts of health problems, like diabetes, heart disease, and mental health issues like depression and anxiety.

Schools and education have also learned a lot from random assignment. Researchers have used it to look at different ways of teaching, what kind of classrooms are best, and how technology can help learning.

This knowledge has helped make better school rules, develop what we learn in school, and find the best ways to teach students of all ages and backgrounds.

Workplace and Organizational Behavior

Random assignment helps us understand how people act at work and what makes a workplace good or bad.

Studies have looked at different kinds of workplaces, how bosses should act, and how teams should be put together. This has helped companies make better rules and create places to work that are helpful and make people happy.

Environmental and Social Changes

Random assignment is also used to see how changes in the community and environment affect people. Studies have looked at community projects, changes to the environment, and social programs to see how they help or hurt people’s well-being.

This has led to better community projects, efforts to protect the environment, and programs to help people in society.

Technology and Human Interaction

In our world where technology is always changing, studies with random assignment help us see how tech like social media, virtual reality, and online stuff affect how we act and feel.

This has helped make better and safer technology and rules about using it so that everyone can benefit.

The effects of random assignment go far and wide, way beyond just a science lab. It helps us understand lots of different things, leads to new and improved ways to do things, and really makes a difference in the world around us.

From making healthcare and schools better to creating positive changes in communities and the environment, the real-world impact of random assignment shows just how important it is in helping us learn and make the world a better place.

So, what have we learned? Random assignment is like a super tool in learning about how people think and act. It's like a detective helping us find clues and solve mysteries in many parts of our lives.

From creating new medicines to helping kids learn better in school, and from making workplaces happier to protecting the environment, it’s got a big job!

This method isn’t just something scientists use in labs; it reaches out and touches our everyday lives. It helps make positive changes and teaches us valuable lessons.

Whether we are talking about technology, health, education, or the environment, random assignment is there, working behind the scenes, making things better and safer for all of us.

In the end, the simple act of putting people into groups by chance helps us make big discoveries and improvements. It’s like throwing a small stone into a pond and watching the ripples spread out far and wide.

Thanks to random assignment, we are always learning, growing, and finding new ways to make our world a happier and healthier place for everyone!

Related posts:

  • 19+ Experimental Design Examples (Methods + Types)
  • Cluster Sampling vs Stratified Sampling
  • 41+ White Collar Job Examples (Salary + Path)
  • 47+ Blue Collar Job Examples (Salary + Path)
  • McDonaldization of Society (Definition + Examples)

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Statistics By Jim

Making statistics intuitive

Random Assignment in Experiments

By Jim Frost 4 Comments

Random assignment uses chance to assign subjects to the control and treatment groups in an experiment. This process helps ensure that the groups are equivalent at the beginning of the study, which makes it safer to assume the treatments caused any differences between groups that the experimenters observe at the end of the study.

photogram of tumbling dice to illustrate a process for random assignment.

Huh? That might be a big surprise! At this point, you might be wondering about all of those studies that use statistics to assess the effects of different treatments. There’s a critical separation between significance and causality:

  • Statistical procedures determine whether an effect is significant.
  • Experimental designs determine how confidently you can assume that a treatment causes the effect.

In this post, learn how using random assignment in experiments can help you identify causal relationships.

Correlation, Causation, and Confounding Variables

Random assignment helps you separate causation from correlation and rule out confounding variables. As a critical component of the scientific method , experiments typically set up contrasts between a control group and one or more treatment groups. The idea is to determine whether the effect, which is the difference between a treatment group and the control group, is statistically significant. If the effect is significant, group assignment correlates with different outcomes.

However, as you have no doubt heard, correlation does not necessarily imply causation. In other words, the experimental groups can have different mean outcomes, but the treatment might not be causing those differences even though the differences are statistically significant.

The difficulty in definitively stating that a treatment caused the difference is due to potential confounding variables or confounders. Confounders are alternative explanations for differences between the experimental groups. Confounding variables correlate with both the experimental groups and the outcome variable. In this situation, confounding variables can be the actual cause for the outcome differences rather than the treatments themselves. As you’ll see, if an experiment does not account for confounding variables, they can bias the results and make them untrustworthy.

Related posts : Understanding Correlation in Statistics , Causation versus Correlation , and Hill’s Criteria for Causation .

Example of Confounding in an Experiment

A photograph of vitamin capsules to represent our experiment.

  • Control group: Does not consume vitamin supplements
  • Treatment group: Regularly consumes vitamin supplements.

Imagine we measure a specific health outcome. After the experiment is complete, we perform a 2-sample t-test to determine whether the mean outcomes for these two groups are different. Assume the test results indicate that the mean health outcome in the treatment group is significantly better than the control group.

Why can’t we assume that the vitamins improved the health outcomes? After all, only the treatment group took the vitamins.

Related post : Confounding Variables in Regression Analysis

Alternative Explanations for Differences in Outcomes

The answer to that question depends on how we assigned the subjects to the experimental groups. If we let the subjects decide which group to join based on their existing vitamin habits, it opens the door to confounding variables. It’s reasonable to assume that people who take vitamins regularly also tend to have other healthy habits. These habits are confounders because they correlate with both vitamin consumption (experimental group) and the health outcome measure.

Random assignment prevents this self sorting of participants and reduces the likelihood that the groups start with systematic differences.

In fact, studies have found that supplement users are more physically active, have healthier diets, have lower blood pressure, and so on compared to those who don’t take supplements. If subjects who already take vitamins regularly join the treatment group voluntarily, they bring these healthy habits disproportionately to the treatment group. Consequently, these habits will be much more prevalent in the treatment group than the control group.

The healthy habits are the confounding variables—the potential alternative explanations for the difference in our study’s health outcome. It’s entirely possible that these systematic differences between groups at the start of the study might cause the difference in the health outcome at the end of the study—and not the vitamin consumption itself!

If our experiment doesn’t account for these confounding variables, we can’t trust the results. While we obtained statistically significant results with the 2-sample t-test for health outcomes, we don’t know for sure whether the vitamins, the systematic difference in habits, or some combination of the two caused the improvements.

Learn why many randomized clinical experiments use a placebo to control for the Placebo Effect .

Experiments Must Account for Confounding Variables

Your experimental design must account for confounding variables to avoid their problems. Scientific studies commonly use the following methods to handle confounders:

  • Use control variables to keep them constant throughout an experiment.
  • Statistically control for them in an observational study.
  • Use random assignment to reduce the likelihood that systematic differences exist between experimental groups when the study begins.

Let’s take a look at how random assignment works in an experimental design.

Random Assignment Can Reduce the Impact of Confounding Variables

Note that random assignment is different than random sampling. Random sampling is a process for obtaining a sample that accurately represents a population .

Photo of a coin toss to represent how we can incorporate random assignment in our experiment.

Random assignment uses a chance process to assign subjects to experimental groups. Using random assignment requires that the experimenters can control the group assignment for all study subjects. For our study, we must be able to assign our participants to either the control group or the supplement group. Clearly, if we don’t have the ability to assign subjects to the groups, we can’t use random assignment!

Additionally, the process must have an equal probability of assigning a subject to any of the groups. For example, in our vitamin supplement study, we can use a coin toss to assign each subject to either the control group or supplement group. For more complex experimental designs, we can use a random number generator or even draw names out of a hat.

Random Assignment Distributes Confounders Equally

The random assignment process distributes confounding properties amongst your experimental groups equally. In other words, randomness helps eliminate systematic differences between groups. For our study, flipping the coin tends to equalize the distribution of subjects with healthier habits between the control and treatment group. Consequently, these two groups should start roughly equal for all confounding variables, including healthy habits!

Random assignment is a simple, elegant solution to a complex problem. For any given study area, there can be a long list of confounding variables that you could worry about. However, using random assignment, you don’t need to know what they are, how to detect them, or even measure them. Instead, use random assignment to equalize them across your experimental groups so they’re not a problem.

Because random assignment helps ensure that the groups are comparable when the experiment begins, you can be more confident that the treatments caused the post-study differences. Random assignment helps increase the internal validity of your study.

Comparing the Vitamin Study With and Without Random Assignment

Let’s compare two scenarios involving our hypothetical vitamin study. We’ll assume that the study obtains statistically significant results in both cases.

Scenario 1: We don’t use random assignment and, unbeknownst to us, subjects with healthier habits disproportionately end up in the supplement treatment group. The experimental groups differ by both healthy habits and vitamin consumption. Consequently, we can’t determine whether it was the habits or vitamins that improved the outcomes.

Scenario 2: We use random assignment and, consequently, the treatment and control groups start with roughly equal levels of healthy habits. The intentional introduction of vitamin supplements in the treatment group is the primary difference between the groups. Consequently, we can more confidently assert that the supplements caused an improvement in health outcomes.

For both scenarios, the statistical results could be identical. However, the methodology behind the second scenario makes a stronger case for a causal relationship between vitamin supplement consumption and health outcomes.

How important is it to use the correct methodology? Well, if the relationship between vitamins and health outcomes is not causal, then consuming vitamins won’t cause your health outcomes to improve regardless of what the study indicates. Instead, it’s probably all the other healthy habits!

Learn more about Randomized Controlled Trials (RCTs) that are the gold standard for identifying causal relationships because they use random assignment.

Drawbacks of Random Assignment

Random assignment helps reduce the chances of systematic differences between the groups at the start of an experiment and, thereby, mitigates the threats of confounding variables and alternative explanations. However, the process does not always equalize all of the confounding variables. Its random nature tends to eliminate systematic differences, but it doesn’t always succeed.

Sometimes random assignment is impossible because the experimenters cannot control the treatment or independent variable. For example, if you want to determine how individuals with and without depression perform on a test, you cannot randomly assign subjects to these groups. The same difficulty occurs when you’re studying differences between genders.

In other cases, there might be ethical issues. For example, in a randomized experiment, the researchers would want to withhold treatment for the control group. However, if the treatments are vaccinations, it might be unethical to withhold the vaccinations.

Other times, random assignment might be possible, but it is very challenging. For example, with vitamin consumption, it’s generally thought that if vitamin supplements cause health improvements, it’s only after very long-term use. It’s hard to enforce random assignment with a strict regimen for usage in one group and non-usage in the other group over the long-run. Or imagine a study about smoking. The researchers would find it difficult to assign subjects to the smoking and non-smoking groups randomly!

Fortunately, if you can’t use random assignment to help reduce the problem of confounding variables, there are different methods available. The other primary approach is to perform an observational study and incorporate the confounders into the statistical model itself. For more information, read my post Observational Studies Explained .

Read About Real Experiments that Used Random Assignment

I’ve written several blog posts about studies that have used random assignment to make causal inferences. Read studies about the following:

  • Flu Vaccinations
  • COVID-19 Vaccinations

Sullivan L.  Random assignment versus random selection . SAGE Glossary of the Social and Behavioral Sciences, SAGE Publications, Inc.; 2009.

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Reader Interactions

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November 13, 2019 at 4:59 am

Hi Jim, I have a question of randomly assigning participants to one of two conditions when it is an ongoing study and you are not sure of how many participants there will be. I am using this random assignment tool for factorial experiments. http://methodologymedia.psu.edu/most/rannumgenerator It asks you for the total number of participants but at this point, I am not sure how many there will be. Thanks for any advice you can give me, Floyd

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May 28, 2019 at 11:34 am

Jim, can you comment on the validity of using the following approach when we can’t use random assignments. I’m in education, we have an ACT prep course that we offer. We can’t force students to take it and we can’t keep them from taking it either. But we want to know if it’s working. Let’s say that by senior year all students who are going to take the ACT have taken it. Let’s also say that I’m only including students who have taking it twice (so I can show growth between first and second time taking it). What I’ve done to address confounders is to go back to say 8th or 9th grade (prior to anyone taking the ACT or the ACT prep course) and run an analysis showing the two groups are not significantly different to start with. Is this valid? If the ACT prep students were higher achievers in 8th or 9th grade, I could not assume my prep course is effecting greater growth, but if they were not significantly different in 8th or 9th grade, I can assume the significant difference in ACT growth (from first to second testing) is due to the prep course. Yes or no?

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May 26, 2019 at 5:37 pm

Nice post! I think the key to understanding scientific research is to understand randomization. And most people don’t get it.

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May 27, 2019 at 9:48 pm

Thank you, Anoop!

I think randomness in an experiment is a funny thing. The issue of confounding factors is a serious problem. You might not even know what they are! But, use random assignment and, voila, the problem usually goes away! If you can’t use random assignment, suddenly you have a whole host of issues to worry about, which I’ll be writing about in more detail in my upcoming post about observational experiments!

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What is a Randomized Control Trial (RCT)?

Julia Simkus

Editor at Simply Psychology

BA (Hons) Psychology, Princeton University

Julia Simkus is a graduate of Princeton University with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology. She is currently studying for a Master's Degree in Counseling for Mental Health and Wellness in September 2023. Julia's research has been published in peer reviewed journals.

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BSc (Hons) Psychology, MRes, PhD, University of Manchester

Saul Mcleod, PhD., is a qualified psychology teacher with over 18 years of experience in further and higher education. He has been published in peer-reviewed journals, including the Journal of Clinical Psychology.

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A randomized control trial (RCT) is a type of study design that involves randomly assigning participants to either an experimental group or a control group to measure the effectiveness of an intervention or treatment.

Randomized Controlled Trials (RCTs) are considered the “gold standard” in medical and health research due to their rigorous design.

Randomized Controlled Trial RCT

Control Group

A control group consists of participants who do not receive any treatment or intervention but a placebo or reference treatment. The control participants serve as a comparison group.

The control group is matched as closely as possible to the experimental group, including age, gender, social class, ethnicity, etc.

Because the participants are randomly assigned, the characteristics between the two groups should be balanced, enabling researchers to attribute any differences in outcome to the study intervention.

Since researchers can be confident that any differences between the control and treatment groups are due solely to the effects of the treatments, scientists view RCTs as the gold standard for clinical trials.

Random Allocation

Random allocation and random assignment are terms used interchangeably in the context of a randomized controlled trial (RCT).

Both refer to assigning participants to different groups in a study (such as a treatment group or a control group) in a way that is completely determined by chance.

The process of random assignment controls for confounding variables , ensuring differences between groups are due to chance alone.

Without randomization, researchers might consciously or subconsciously assign patients to a particular group for various reasons.

Several methods can be used for randomization in a Randomized Control Trial (RCT). Here are a few examples:

  • Simple Randomization: This is the simplest method, like flipping a coin. Each participant has an equal chance of being assigned to any group. This can be achieved using random number tables, computerized random number generators, or drawing lots or envelopes.
  • Block Randomization: In this method, participants are randomized within blocks, ensuring that each block has an equal number of participants in each group. This helps to balance the number of participants in each group at any given time during the study.
  • Stratified Randomization: This method is used when researchers want to ensure that certain subgroups of participants are equally represented in each group. Participants are divided into strata, or subgroups, based on characteristics like age or disease severity, and then randomized within these strata.
  • Cluster Randomization: In this method, groups of participants (like families or entire communities), rather than individuals, are randomized.
  • Adaptive Randomization: In this method, the probability of being assigned to each group changes based on the participants already assigned to each group. For example, if more participants have been assigned to the control group, new participants will have a higher probability of being assigned to the experimental group.

Computer software can generate random numbers or sequences that can be used to assign participants to groups in a simple randomization process.

For more complex methods like block, stratified, or adaptive randomization, computer algorithms can be used to consider the additional parameters and ensure that participants are assigned to groups appropriately.

Using a computerized system can also help to maintain the integrity of the randomization process by preventing researchers from knowing in advance which group a participant will be assigned to (a principle known as allocation concealment). This can help to prevent selection bias and ensure the validity of the study results .

Allocation Concealment

Allocation concealment is a technique to ensure the random allocation process is truly random and unbiased.

RCTs use allocation concealment to decide which patients get the real medicine and which get a placebo (a fake medicine)

It involves keeping the sequence of group assignments (i.e., who gets assigned to the treatment group and who gets assigned to the control group next) hidden from the researchers before a participant has enrolled in the study.

This helps to prevent the researchers from consciously or unconsciously selecting certain participants for one group or the other based on their knowledge of which group is next in the sequence.

Allocation concealment ensures that the investigator does not know in advance which treatment the next person will get, thus maintaining the integrity of the randomization process.

Blinding (Masking)

Binding, or masking, refers to withholding information regarding the group assignments (who is in the treatment group and who is in the control group) from the participants, the researchers, or both during the study .

A blinded study prevents the participants from knowing about their treatment to avoid bias in the research. Any information that can influence the subjects is withheld until the completion of the research.

Blinding can be imposed on any participant in an experiment, including researchers, data collectors, evaluators, technicians, and data analysts.

Good blinding can eliminate experimental biases arising from the subjects’ expectations, observer bias, confirmation bias, researcher bias, observer’s effect on the participants, and other biases that may occur in a research test.

In a double-blind study , neither the participants nor the researchers know who is receiving the drug or the placebo. When a participant is enrolled, they are randomly assigned to one of the two groups. The medication they receive looks identical whether it’s the drug or the placebo.

Evidence-based medicine pyramid.

Figure 1 . Evidence-based medicine pyramid. The levels of evidence are appropriately represented by a pyramid as each level, from bottom to top, reflects the quality of research designs (increasing) and quantity (decreasing) of each study design in the body of published literature. For example, randomized control trials are higher quality and more labor intensive to conduct, so there is a lower quantity published.

Resesearch Designs

The choice of design should be guided by the research question, the nature of the treatments or interventions being studied, practical considerations (like sample size and resources), and ethical considerations (such as ensuring all participants have access to potentially beneficial treatments).

The goal is to select a design that provides the most valid and reliable answers to your research questions while minimizing potential biases and confounds.

1. Between-participants randomized designs

Between-participant design involves randomly assigning participants to different treatment conditions. In its simplest form, it has two groups: an experimental group receiving the treatment and a control group.

With more than two levels, multiple treatment conditions are compared. The key feature is that each participant experiences only one condition.

This design allows for clear comparison between groups without worrying about order effects or carryover effects.

It’s particularly useful for treatments that have lasting impacts or when experiencing one condition might influence how participants respond to subsequent conditions.

A study testing a new antidepressant medication might randomly assign 100 participants to either receive the new drug or a placebo.

The researchers would then compare depression scores between the two groups after a specified treatment period to determine if the new medication is more effective than the placebo.

Use this design when:

  • You want to compare the effects of different treatments or interventions
  • Carryover effects are likely (e.g., learning effects or lasting physiological changes)
  • The treatment effect is expected to be permanent
  • You have a large enough sample size to ensure groups are equivalent through randomization

2. Factorial designs

Factorial designs investigate the effects of two or more independent variables simultaneously. They allow researchers to study both main effects of each variable and interaction effects between variables.

These can be between-participants (different groups for each combination of conditions), within-participants (all participants experience all conditions), or mixed (combining both approaches).

Factorial designs allow researchers to examine how different factors combine to influence outcomes, providing a more comprehensive understanding of complex phenomena.

They’re more efficient than running separate studies for each variable and can reveal important interactions that might be missed in simpler designs.

A study examining the effects of both exercise intensity (high vs. low) and diet type (high-protein vs. high-carb) on weight loss might use a 2×2 factorial design.

Participants would be randomly assigned to one of four groups: high-intensity exercise with high-protein diet, high-intensity exercise with high-carb diet, low-intensity exercise with high-protein diet, or low-intensity exercise with high-carb diet.

  • You want to study the effects of multiple independent variables simultaneously
  • You’re interested in potential interactions between variables
  • You want to increase the efficiency of your study by testing multiple hypotheses at once

3. Cluster randomized designs

In cluster randomized trials, groups or “clusters” of participants are randomized to treatment conditions, rather than individuals.

This is often used when individual randomization is impractical or when the intervention is naturally applied at a group level.

It’s particularly useful in educational or community-based research where individual randomization might be disruptive or lead to treatment diffusion.

A study testing a new teaching method might randomize entire classrooms to either use the new method or continue with the standard curriculum.

The researchers would then compare student outcomes between the classrooms using the different methods, rather than randomizing individual students.

  • You have a smaller sample size available
  • Individual differences are likely to be large
  • The effects of the treatment are temporary
  • You can effectively control for order and carryover effects

4. Within-participants (repeated measures) designs

In these designs, each participant experiences all treatment conditions, serving as their own control.

Within-participants designs are more statistically powerful as they control for individual differences. They require fewer participants, making them more efficient.

However, they’re only appropriate when the treatment effects are temporary and when you can effectively counterbalance to control for order effects.

A study on the effects of caffeine on cognitive performance might have participants complete cognitive tests on three separate occasions: after consuming no caffeine, a low dose of caffeine, and a high dose of caffeine.

The order of these conditions would be counterbalanced across participants to control for order effects.

5. Crossover designs

Crossover designs are a specific type of within-participants design where participants receive different treatments in different time periods.

This allows each participant to serve as their own control and can be more efficient than between-participants designs.

Crossover designs combine the benefits of within-participants designs (increased power, control for individual differences) with the ability to compare different treatments.

They’re particularly useful in clinical trials where you want each participant to experience all treatments, but need to ensure that the effects of one treatment don’t carry over to the next.

A study comparing two different pain medications might have participants use one medication for a month, then switch to the other medication for another month after a washout period.

Pain levels would be measured during both treatment periods, allowing for within-participant comparisons of the two medications’ effectiveness.

  • You want to compare the effects of different treatments within the same individuals
  • The treatments have temporary effects with a known washout period
  • You want to increase statistical power while using a smaller sample size
  • You want to control for individual differences in response to treatment

Prevents bias

In randomized control trials, participants must be randomly assigned to either the intervention group or the control group, such that each individual has an equal chance of being placed in either group.

This is meant to prevent selection bias and allocation bias and achieve control over any confounding variables to provide an accurate comparison of the treatment being studied.

Because the distribution of characteristics of patients that could influence the outcome is randomly assigned between groups, any differences in outcome can be explained only by the treatment.

High statistical power

Because the participants are randomized and the characteristics between the two groups are balanced, researchers can assume that if there are significant differences in the primary outcome between the two groups, the differences are likely to be due to the intervention.

This warrants researchers to be confident that randomized control trials will have high statistical power compared to other types of study designs.

Since the focus of conducting a randomized control trial is eliminating bias, blinded RCTs can help minimize any unconscious information bias.

In a blinded RCT, the participants do not know which group they are assigned to or which intervention is received. This blinding procedure should also apply to researchers, health care professionals, assessors, and investigators when possible.

“Single-blind” refers to an RCT where participants do not know the details of the treatment, but the researchers do.

“ Double-blind ” refers to an RCT where both participants and data collectors are masked of the assigned treatment.

Limitations

Costly and timely.

Some interventions require years or even decades to evaluate, rendering them expensive and time-consuming.

It might take an extended period of time before researchers can identify a drug’s effects or discover significant results.

Requires large sample size

There must be enough participants in each group of a randomized control trial so researchers can detect any true differences or effects in outcomes between the groups.

Researchers cannot detect clinically important results if the sample size is too small.

Change in population over time

Because randomized control trials are longitudinal in nature, it is almost inevitable that some participants will not complete the study, whether due to death, migration, non-compliance, or loss of interest in the study.

This tendency is known as selective attrition and can threaten the statistical power of an experiment.

Randomized control trials are not always practical or ethical, and such limitations can prevent researchers from conducting their studies.

For example, a treatment could be too invasive, or administering a placebo instead of an actual drug during a trial for treating a serious illness could deny a participant’s normal course of treatment. Without ethical approval, a randomized control trial cannot proceed.

Fictitious Example

An example of an RCT would be a clinical trial comparing a drug’s effect or a new treatment on a select population.

The researchers would randomly assign participants to either the experimental group or the control group and compare the differences in outcomes between those who receive the drug or treatment and those who do not.

Real-life Examples

  • Preventing illicit drug use in adolescents: Long-term follow-up data from a randomized control trial of a school population (Botvin et al., 2000).
  • A prospective randomized control trial comparing medical and surgical treatment for early pregnancy failure (Demetroulis et al., 2001).
  • A randomized control trial to evaluate a paging system for people with traumatic brain injury (Wilson et al., 2009).
  • Prehabilitation versus Rehabilitation: A Randomized Control Trial in Patients Undergoing Colorectal Resection for Cancer (Gillis et al., 2014).
  • A Randomized Control Trial of Right-Heart Catheterization in Critically Ill Patients (Guyatt, 1991).
  • Berry, R. B., Kryger, M. H., & Massie, C. A. (2011). A novel nasal excitatory positive airway pressure (EPAP) device for the treatment of obstructive sleep apnea: A randomized controlled trial. Sleep , 34, 479–485.
  • Gloy, V. L., Briel, M., Bhatt, D. L., Kashyap, S. R., Schauer, P. R., Mingrone, G., . . . Nordmann, A. J. (2013, October 22). Bariatric surgery versus non-surgical treatment for obesity: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. BMJ , 347.
  • Streeton, C., & Whelan, G. (2001). Naltrexone, a relapse prevention maintenance treatment of alcohol dependence: A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Alcohol and Alcoholism, 36 (6), 544–552.

How Should an RCT be Reported?

Reporting of a Randomized Controlled Trial (RCT) should be done in a clear, transparent, and comprehensive manner to allow readers to understand the design, conduct, analysis, and interpretation of the trial.

The Consolidated Standards of Reporting Trials ( CONSORT ) statement is a widely accepted guideline for reporting RCTs.

Further Information

  • Cocks, K., & Torgerson, D. J. (2013). Sample size calculations for pilot randomized trials: a confidence interval approach. Journal of clinical epidemiology, 66(2), 197-201.
  • Kendall, J. (2003). Designing a research project: randomised controlled trials and their principles. Emergency medicine journal: EMJ, 20(2), 164.

Akobeng, A.K., Understanding randomized controlled trials. Archives of Disease in Childhood , 2005; 90: 840-844.

Bell, C. C., Gibbons, R., & McKay, M. M. (2008). Building protective factors to offset sexually risky behaviors among black youths: a randomized control trial. Journal of the National Medical Association, 100 (8), 936-944.

Bhide, A., Shah, P. S., & Acharya, G. (2018). A simplified guide to randomized controlled trials. Acta obstetricia et gynecologica Scandinavica, 97 (4), 380-387.

Botvin, G. J., Griffin, K. W., Diaz, T., Scheier, L. M., Williams, C., & Epstein, J. A. (2000). Preventing illicit drug use in adolescents: Long-term follow-up data from a randomized control trial of a school population. Addictive Behaviors, 25 (5), 769-774.

Demetroulis, C., Saridogan, E., Kunde, D., & Naftalin, A. A. (2001). A prospective randomized control trial comparing medical and surgical treatment for early pregnancy failure. Human Reproduction, 16 (2), 365-369.

Gillis, C., Li, C., Lee, L., Awasthi, R., Augustin, B., Gamsa, A., … & Carli, F. (2014). Prehabilitation versus rehabilitation: a randomized control trial in patients undergoing colorectal resection for cancer. Anesthesiology, 121 (5), 937-947.

Globas, C., Becker, C., Cerny, J., Lam, J. M., Lindemann, U., Forrester, L. W., … & Luft, A. R. (2012). Chronic stroke survivors benefit from high-intensity aerobic treadmill exercise: a randomized control trial. Neurorehabilitation and Neural Repair, 26 (1), 85-95.

Guyatt, G. (1991). A randomized control trial of right-heart catheterization in critically ill patients. Journal of Intensive Care Medicine, 6 (2), 91-95.

MediLexicon International. (n.d.). Randomized controlled trials: Overview, benefits, and limitations. Medical News Today. Retrieved from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/280574#what-is-a-randomized-controlled-trial

Wilson, B. A., Emslie, H., Quirk, K., Evans, J., & Watson, P. (2005). A randomized control trial to evaluate a paging system for people with traumatic brain injury. Brain Injury, 19 (11), 891-894.

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Unraveling the Mystery of Random Assignment in Psychology

what is random assignment and why is it used

Random assignment is a crucial concept in psychology research, ensuring the validity and reliability of experiments. But what exactly is random assignment, and why is it so important in the field of psychology?

In this article, we will discuss the difference between random assignment and random sampling, the steps involved in random assignment, and how researchers can effectively implement this technique. We will also explore the benefits and limitations of random assignment, as well as ways to ensure its effectiveness in psychology research.

Join us as we unravel the mystery of random assignment in psychology.

  • Random assignment is a research method used in psychology to eliminate bias and increase internal validity by randomly assigning participants to different groups.
  • Unlike random sampling, which selects participants for a study, random assignment randomly distributes participants into groups to ensure unbiased results.
  • Researchers can ensure effective random assignment by using randomization tables, random number generators, and stratified random assignment to increase the accuracy and generalizability of their findings.
  • 1 What is Random Assignment in Psychology?
  • 2.1 What is the Difference between Random Assignment and Random Sampling?
  • 3.1 What are the Steps Involved in Random Assignment?
  • 4.1 Eliminates Bias
  • 4.2 Increases Internal Validity
  • 4.3 Allows for Generalizability
  • 5.1 Practical Limitations
  • 5.2 Ethical Concerns
  • 6.1 Use a Randomization Table
  • 6.2 Use a Random Number Generator
  • 6.3 Use Stratified Random Assignment
  • 7.1 What is random assignment and why is it important in psychology?
  • 7.2 How is random assignment different from random selection?
  • 7.3 What are some common methods of random assignment in psychology research?
  • 7.4 Are there any limitations to random assignment in psychology research?
  • 7.5 What are the advantages of using random assignment in psychology research?
  • 7.6 Can random assignment be used in all types of psychology research?

What is Random Assignment in Psychology?

Random assignment in psychology refers to the method of placing participants in experimental groups through a random process to ensure unbiased distribution of characteristics.

This method is crucial in research studies as it allows for the elimination of potential biases that could skew results, leading to more accurate and generalizable findings. By randomly assigning participants, researchers can be more confident that any differences observed between groups are due to the treatment or intervention being studied rather than pre-existing individual characteristics.

For example, in a study investigating the effectiveness of a new therapy for anxiety, random assignment would involve randomly assigning participants with similar levels of anxiety to either the treatment group receiving the new therapy or the control group receiving a placebo. Variables such as age, gender, and severity of anxiety are controlled through random assignment to ensure that any differences in outcomes can be attributed to the therapy.

Why is Random Assignment Important in Psychology Experiments?

Random assignment holds paramount importance in psychology experiments as it enhances internal validity, establishes cause-and-effect relationships, and ensures accurate data analysis.

Random assignment involves the objective allocation of participants into different experimental groups without any bias or preconceived notions. This method is crucial in ensuring that researchers can confidently draw conclusions about the causal relationships being examined, rather than attributing any observed effects to other variables.

By randomly assigning participants, researchers can control for potential confounding variables and eliminate the influence of extraneous factors, thus strengthening the internal validity of the study. This process minimizes the likelihood of alternative explanations for the results, allowing for more accurate interpretations and conclusions.

In fields like clinical trials, the use of random assignment is fundamental in evaluating the effectiveness of new treatments or interventions. Test performance studies also rely on random assignment to evenly distribute factors that may impact scores, such as motivation levels or prior knowledge. In behavioral studies, random assignment ensures that participants are evenly distributed across conditions, reducing the risk of bias and increasing the generalizability of findings.

What is the Difference between Random Assignment and Random Sampling?

Random assignment and random sampling are distinct concepts in research methodology; while random assignment involves the allocation of participants to groups, random sampling pertains to the selection of a representative sample from a population.

In research design, random assignment plays a crucial role in ensuring the control and distribution of variables among different experimental groups, thereby minimizing bias and allowing researchers to establish cause-effect relationships. On the other hand, random sampling is essential for obtaining a sample that accurately represents the larger population being studied, increasing the generalizability of research findings.

For instance, in a study investigating the effects of a new medication, researchers may use random assignment to assign participants randomly to either the treatment group receiving the medication or the control group receiving a placebo. This random allocation helps in isolating the impact of the medication from other variables.

Conversely, when employing random sampling, researchers aim to select participants in a way that every individual in the population has an equal chance of being included in the study. This method ensures that the sample closely reflects the characteristics of the entire population under investigation.

How is Random Assignment Used in Psychology Research?

Random assignment is a fundamental component of psychology research, utilized to allocate participants randomly to groups in controlled experiments to investigate the impact of variables on study outcomes.

In experimental design, researchers use random assignment to ensure that participants have equal chances of being assigned to different conditions, reducing bias and increasing the validity of the study results.

This method allows researchers to confidently infer causality between variables, as any differences observed in outcomes can be attributed to the manipulation of independent variables, rather than pre-existing participant characteristics.

Clinical research often relies on random assignment to assess the efficacy of new treatments or interventions, helping to establish evidence-based practices that improve patient outcomes.

What are the Steps Involved in Random Assignment?

The steps in random assignment entail the creation of groups, selection of participants, and the assignment process itself, ensuring a randomized distribution in the experimental design.

The creation of groups involves categorizing the participants based on relevant criteria such as age, gender, or other demographics to form distinct experimental and control groups. Then, the selection of participants requires a systematic approach to avoid bias, ensuring that each individual has an equal chance of inclusion.

Following this, the assignment process involves using randomization methods like coin flipping, random number generators, or computer algorithms to determine which group each participant will be allocated to. By doing this, the randomization helps reduce the impact of confounding variables, making the results more reliable and valid.

What are the Benefits of Using Random Assignment in Psychology?

Using random assignment in psychology offers multiple benefits such as eliminating bias , increasing internal validity, and establishing causal relationships crucial for accurate data analysis in behavioral studies.

Random assignment is a method that involves every participant having an equal chance of being assigned to any condition or group within a study. By implementing this technique, researchers can ensure that potential confounding variables are evenly distributed across groups, leading to more reliable and valid results . This process is integral in psychology research as it not only strengthens the internal validity of a study but also allows researchers to confidently attribute any observed differences to the treatment being studied.

Eliminates Bias

One of the key benefits of random assignment is its ability to eliminate bias by ensuring that participants are equally distributed between the control and treatment groups, mitigating the impact of confounding variables.

Reducing bias in research is crucial as it enhances the internal validity of the study, making the results more reliable and generalizable.

  • Random assignment is particularly vital in experimental studies, where the goal is to determine causality.

For instance, imagine a study on the effectiveness of a new medication for hypertension. If participants with severe hypertension are all placed in the treatment group, and those with mild hypertension in the control group, the results may not accurately reflect the medication’s true impact.

Increases Internal Validity

Random assignment enhances internal validity by ensuring that any observed effects are attributed to the manipulation of the independent variable rather than external factors, strengthening the causal inference between variables.

Control and treatment groups play a crucial role in this process. The control group does not receive the treatment , serving as a baseline comparison to evaluate the impact of the independent variable. On the other hand, the treatment group is exposed to the independent variable. This distinction allows researchers to isolate the effects of the intervention accurately.

The relationship between the independent and dependent variables is key. The independent variable is manipulated by the researcher to observe its effect on the dependent variable. For instance, in a study testing a new drug’s efficacy (independent variable), the patient’s health outcomes (dependent variable) are measured.

Allows for Generalizability

Random assignment enables generalizability by creating samples that represent the broader population, increasing the validity of research findings and supporting the generalization of hypotheses to larger groups.

When researchers use random assignment, it helps to eliminate bias and ensure that participants are equally distributed between different experimental conditions. This method enhances the likelihood that the results are not skewed by pre-existing differences among participants, thus making the findings more reliable and applicable to a wider range of individuals.

By having diverse and representative samples through random assignment, researchers can draw conclusions that are more likely to be valid for the entire population, rather than just a specific subgroup. This approach also enhances the ability to make predictions and recommendations based on the study’s outcomes that can be beneficial for decision-making processes in various fields.

What are the Limitations of Random Assignment in Psychology?

Despite its advantages, random assignment in psychology experiments faces limitations such as practical constraints that may affect the implementation process and ethical considerations related to participant welfare.

One practical challenge encountered with random assignment is the logistical complexity of ensuring a truly random allocation of participants to experimental conditions. Researchers may find it difficult to maintain perfect randomization due to issues like accessibility, time constraints, and resources required. For instance, in a study aiming to investigate the effects of sleep deprivation on cognitive performance, ensuring that participants are randomly assigned to control and experimental groups might be challenging.

Ethical dilemmas arise concerning the well-being of participants. Random assignment can lead to unequal group distributions, potentially exposing some individuals to risks without corresponding benefits. For instance, assigning participants with a history of mental health issues to a placebo group in a study testing the efficacy of a new treatment can raise ethical concerns.

Addressing these challenges requires researchers to adopt measures such as stratified random assignment, where participants are grouped based on specific characteristics to ensure balanced representation across experimental conditions. By predefining strata, researchers can control for variables that may affect outcomes.

Practical Limitations

Practical limitations of random assignment include logistical challenges in participant recruitment, constraints in experimental design, and potential impacts on study outcomes due to practical considerations.

One of the major challenges researchers face is the difficulty of ensuring a truly randomized sample, especially when dealing with complex recruitment processes and limited resources for participant selection. The logistics involved in coordinating experimental procedures for each participant can be overwhelming, leading to delays in data collection and analysis.

These issues can significantly affect the internal validity of a study, as deviations from random assignment may introduce bias and confound the results. To mitigate these challenges, researchers can adopt strategies such as stratified randomization or matching to improve participant allocation and minimize the impact of logistical constraints on the study outcomes.

Ethical Concerns

Ethical concerns in random assignment revolve around participant welfare, equitable treatment in the control and treatment groups, and the ethical implications of manipulating variables that may impact individuals’ well-being.

When conducting a psychology experiment, researchers must ensure that the random assignment of participants to different groups is carried out in a fair and unbiased manner. This is crucial in maintaining the integrity of the study and upholding ethical principles.

Participant welfare is paramount, and researchers have a responsibility to safeguard the well-being of individuals involved in the research.

How Can Researchers Ensure Effective Random Assignment?

Researchers can ensure effective random assignment by utilizing tools such as randomization tables , random number generators , and stratified random assignment methods to enhance the randomness and validity of group allocations.

Randomization tables help match participants to different treatment groups based on a predefined criteria or algorithm, ensuring an unbiased assignment process. Random number generators play a crucial role in allocating participants to groups without any conscious or subconscious bias, fostering transparent and fair treatment allocations.

Implementing stratified assignments involves dividing participants into subgroups based on specific characteristics, such as age, gender, or severity of the condition, to create more homogeneous groups for more accurate results.

Best practices for maintaining the integrity of the random assignment process include double-blinding the study, ensuring proper concealment of allocation mechanisms, and conducting randomization procedures by an independent party to minimize potential biases.

Use a Randomization Table

A randomization table is a valuable tool in research that aids in the allocation of participants to different groups using a predetermined random sequence, ensuring an unbiased distribution in the random assignment process.

By utilizing a randomization table, researchers can avoid selection bias and ensure that each participant has an equal chance of being assigned to any group. This method promotes fairness and helps in achieving comparability among the groups in a study. For example, in a clinical trial testing a new medication, a randomization table can be employed to assign participants either to the treatment group receiving the medication or the control group receiving a placebo.

The benefits of using randomization tables include increased internal validity, reduced confounding variables, and the ability to demonstrate causal relationships with greater confidence. This tool enhances the reliability and replicability of research findings by minimizing systematic errors in group allocations.

Use a Random Number Generator

In research, a random number generator is employed to allocate participants randomly to groups, ensuring an unbiased distribution and enhancing the validity and reliability of study outcomes.

Random number generators play a crucial role in the scientific method by enabling researchers to achieve randomness essential for reliable experiments. They aid in minimizing selection bias, thereby contributing to the integrity of the study design. Random number generators uphold the principle of chance, fostering a fair and equal opportunity for each participant to be assigned to a specific condition. This methodological approach ensures that the treatment and control groups are comparable, leading to more accurate conclusions and interpretations.

Use Stratified Random Assignment

Stratified random assignment involves grouping participants based on specific characteristics before random assignment, allowing for the control of variables and ensuring a balanced representation within groups.

This methodology is particularly useful in research design as it helps minimize the potential biases that can arise in studies. By dividing participants into homogeneous subgroups, such as age, gender, or socio-economic status, researchers can ensure that each subgroup is appropriately represented in the study sample. For example, in a healthcare study, stratified random assignment can ensure that both younger and older age groups are equally represented, providing more comprehensive results that can be generalized to the larger population.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is random assignment and why is it important in psychology.

Random assignment is the process of randomly assigning participants to different groups in a research study. It is important in psychology because it helps to eliminate bias and ensure that the groups being compared are similar, allowing researchers to determine the true effects of a variable.

How is random assignment different from random selection?

Random assignment involves randomly assigning participants to different groups, while random selection involves randomly choosing participants from a larger population. Random assignment is done within the chosen sample, while random selection is done before the sample is chosen.

What are some common methods of random assignment in psychology research?

Some common methods of random assignment include simple random assignment, stratified random assignment, and matched random assignment. Simple random assignment involves randomly assigning participants to groups with no restrictions. Stratified random assignment involves dividing participants into subgroups and then randomly assigning participants from each subgroup to different groups. Matched random assignment involves pairing participants based on certain characteristics and then randomly assigning one of each pair to a group.

Are there any limitations to random assignment in psychology research?

Yes, there are some limitations to random assignment. For example, it may not always be feasible or ethical to randomly assign participants to different groups. Additionally, random assignment does not guarantee that the groups will be exactly equal on all characteristics, which could potentially impact the results of the study.

What are the advantages of using random assignment in psychology research?

The main advantage of using random assignment is that it helps to eliminate bias and ensure that the groups being compared are similar. This allows researchers to make more accurate conclusions about the relationship between variables and determine causality.

Can random assignment be used in all types of psychology research?

Random assignment is commonly used in experimental research, where participants are randomly assigned to different conditions. However, it may not be as useful in other types of research, such as correlational studies, where participants are not manipulated and groups cannot be randomly assigned.

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Lena Nguyen, an industrial-organizational psychologist, specializes in employee engagement, leadership development, and organizational culture. Her consultancy work has helped businesses build stronger teams and create environments that promote innovation and efficiency. Lena’s articles offer a fresh perspective on managing workplace dynamics and harnessing the potential of human capital in achieving business success.

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Random Assignment in Psychology (Intro for Students)

Random Assignment in Psychology (Intro for Students)

Dave Cornell (PhD)

Dr. Cornell has worked in education for more than 20 years. His work has involved designing teacher certification for Trinity College in London and in-service training for state governments in the United States. He has trained kindergarten teachers in 8 countries and helped businessmen and women open baby centers and kindergartens in 3 countries.

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Random Assignment in Psychology (Intro for Students)

Chris Drew (PhD)

This article was peer-reviewed and edited by Chris Drew (PhD). The review process on Helpful Professor involves having a PhD level expert fact check, edit, and contribute to articles. Reviewers ensure all content reflects expert academic consensus and is backed up with reference to academic studies. Dr. Drew has published over 20 academic articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education and holds a PhD in Education from ACU.

what is random assignment and why is it used

Random assignment is a research procedure used to randomly assign participants to different experimental conditions (or ‘groups’). This introduces the element of chance, ensuring that each participant has an equal likelihood of being placed in any condition group for the study.

It is absolutely essential that the treatment condition and the control condition are the same in all ways except for the variable being manipulated.

Using random assignment to place participants in different conditions helps to achieve this.

It ensures that those conditions are the same in regards to all potential confounding variables and extraneous factors .

Why Researchers Use Random Assignment

Researchers use random assignment to control for confounds in research.

Confounds refer to unwanted and often unaccounted-for variables that might affect the outcome of a study. These confounding variables can skew the results, rendering the experiment unreliable.

For example, below is a study with two groups. Note how there are more ‘red’ individuals in the first group than the second:

a representation of a treatment condition showing 12 red people in the cohort

There is likely a confounding variable in this experiment explaining why more red people ended up in the treatment condition and less in the control condition. The red people might have self-selected, for example, leading to a skew of them in one group over the other.

Ideally, we’d want a more even distribution, like below:

a representation of a treatment condition showing 4 red people in the cohort

To achieve better balance in our two conditions, we use randomized sampling.

Fact File: Experiments 101

Random assignment is used in the type of research called the experiment.

An experiment involves manipulating the level of one variable and examining how it affects another variable. These are the independent and dependent variables :

  • Independent Variable: The variable manipulated is called the independent variable (IV)
  • Dependent Variable: The variable that it is expected to affect is called the dependent variable (DV).

The most basic form of the experiment involves two conditions: the treatment and the control .

  • The Treatment Condition: The treatment condition involves the participants being exposed to the IV.
  • The Control Condition: The control condition involves the absence of the IV. Therefore, the IV has two levels: zero and some quantity.

Researchers utilize random assignment to determine which participants go into which conditions.

Methods of Random Assignment

There are several procedures that researchers can use to randomly assign participants to different conditions.

1. Random number generator

There are several websites that offer computer-generated random numbers. Simply indicate how many conditions are in the experiment and then click. If there are 4 conditions, the program will randomly generate a number between 1 and 4 each time it is clicked.

2. Flipping a coin

If there are two conditions in an experiment, then the simplest way to implement random assignment is to flip a coin for each participant. Heads means being assigned to the treatment and tails means being assigned to the control (or vice versa).

3. Rolling a die

Rolling a single die is another way to randomly assign participants. If the experiment has three conditions, then numbers 1 and 2 mean being assigned to the control; numbers 3 and 4 mean treatment condition one; and numbers 5 and 6 mean treatment condition two.

4. Condition names in a hat

In some studies, the researcher will write the name of the treatment condition(s) or control on slips of paper and place them in a hat. If there are 4 conditions and 1 control, then there are 5 slips of paper.

The researcher closes their eyes and selects one slip for each participant. That person is then assigned to one of the conditions in the study and that slip of paper is placed back in the hat. Repeat as necessary.

There are other ways of trying to ensure that the groups of participants are equal in all ways with the exception of the IV. However, random assignment is the most often used because it is so effective at reducing confounds.

Read About More Methods and Examples of Random Assignment Here

Potential Confounding Effects

Random assignment is all about minimizing confounding effects.

Here are six types of confounds that can be controlled for using random assignment:

  • Individual Differences: Participants in a study will naturally vary in terms of personality, intelligence, mood, prior knowledge, and many other characteristics. If one group happens to have more people with a particular characteristic, this could affect the results. Random assignment ensures that these individual differences are spread out equally among the experimental groups, making it less likely that they will unduly influence the outcome.
  • Temporal or Time-Related Confounds: Events or situations that occur at a particular time can influence the outcome of an experiment. For example, a participant might be tested after a stressful event, while another might be tested after a relaxing weekend. Random assignment ensures that such effects are equally distributed among groups, thus controlling for their potential influence.
  • Order Effects: If participants are exposed to multiple treatments or tests, the order in which they experience them can influence their responses. Randomly assigning the order of treatments for different participants helps control for this.
  • Location or Environmental Confounds: The environment in which the study is conducted can influence the results. One group might be tested in a noisy room, while another might be in a quiet room. Randomly assigning participants to different locations can control for these effects.
  • Instrumentation Confounds: These occur when there are variations in the calibration or functioning of measurement instruments across conditions. If one group’s responses are being measured using a slightly different tool or scale, it can introduce a confound. Random assignment can ensure that any such potential inconsistencies in instrumentation are equally distributed among groups.
  • Experimenter Effects: Sometimes, the behavior or expectations of the person administering the experiment can unintentionally influence the participants’ behavior or responses. For instance, if an experimenter believes one treatment is superior, they might unconsciously communicate this belief to participants. Randomly assigning experimenters or using a double-blind procedure (where neither the participant nor the experimenter knows the treatment being given) can help control for this.

Random assignment helps balance out these and other potential confounds across groups, ensuring that any observed differences are more likely due to the manipulated independent variable rather than some extraneous factor.

Limitations of the Random Assignment Procedure

Although random assignment is extremely effective at eliminating the presence of participant-related confounds, there are several scenarios in which it cannot be used.

  • Ethics: The most obvious scenario is when it would be unethical. For example, if wanting to investigate the effects of emotional abuse on children, it would be unethical to randomly assign children to either received abuse or not.  Even if a researcher were to propose such a study, it would not receive approval from the Institutional Review Board (IRB) which oversees research by university faculty.
  • Practicality: Other scenarios involve matters of practicality. For example, randomly assigning people to specific types of diet over a 10-year period would be interesting, but it would be highly unlikely that participants would be diligent enough to make the study valid. This is why examining these types of subjects has to be carried out through observational studies . The data is correlational, which is informative, but falls short of the scientist’s ultimate goal of identifying causality.
  • Small Sample Size: The smaller the sample size being assigned to conditions, the more likely it is that the two groups will be unequal. For example, if you flip a coin many times in a row then you will notice that sometimes there will be a string of heads or tails that come up consecutively. This means that one condition may have a build-up of participants that share the same characteristics. However, if you continue flipping the coin, over the long-term, there will be a balance of heads and tails. Unfortunately, how large a sample size is necessary has been the subject of considerable debate (Bloom, 2006; Shadish et al., 2002).

“It is well known that larger sample sizes reduce the probability that random assignment will result in conditions that are unequal” (Goldberg, 2019, p. 2).

Applications of Random Assignment

The importance of random assignment has been recognized in a wide range of scientific and applied disciplines (Bloom, 2006).

Random assignment began as a tool in agricultural research by Fisher (1925, 1935). After WWII, it became extensively used in medical research to test the effectiveness of new treatments and pharmaceuticals (Marks, 1997).

Today it is widely used in industrial engineering (Box, Hunter, and Hunter, 2005), educational research (Lindquist, 1953; Ong-Dean et al., 2011)), psychology (Myers, 1972), and social policy studies (Boruch, 1998; Orr, 1999).

One of the biggest obstacles to the validity of an experiment is the confound. If the group of participants in the treatment condition are substantially different from the group in the control condition, then it is impossible to determine if the IV has an affect or if the confound has an effect.

Thankfully, random assignment is highly effective at eliminating confounds that are known and unknown. Because each participant has an equal chance of being placed in each condition, they are equally distributed.

There are several ways of implementing random assignment, including flipping a coin or using a random number generator.

Random assignment has become an essential procedure in research in a wide range of subjects such as psychology, education, and social policy.

Alferes, V. R. (2012). Methods of randomization in experimental design . Sage Publications.

Bloom, H. S. (2008). The core analytics of randomized experiments for social research. The SAGE Handbook of Social Research Methods , 115-133.

Boruch, R. F. (1998). Randomized controlled experiments for evaluation and planning. Handbook of applied social research methods , 161-191.

Box, G. E., Hunter, W. G., & Hunter, J. S. (2005). Design of experiments: Statistics for Experimenters: Design, Innovation and Discovery.

Dehue, T. (1997). Deception, efficiency, and random groups: Psychology and the gradual origination of the random group design. Isis , 88 (4), 653-673.

Fisher, R.A. (1925). Statistical methods for research workers (11th ed. rev.). Oliver and Boyd: Edinburgh.

Fisher, R. A. (1935). The Design of Experiments. Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd.

Goldberg, M. H. (2019). How often does random assignment fail? Estimates and recommendations. Journal of Environmental Psychology , 66 , 101351.

Jamison, J. C. (2019). The entry of randomized assignment into the social sciences. Journal of Causal Inference , 7 (1), 20170025.

Lindquist, E. F. (1953). Design and analysis of experiments in psychology and education . Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.

Marks, H. M. (1997). The progress of experiment: Science and therapeutic reform in the United States, 1900-1990 . Cambridge University Press.

Myers, J. L. (1972). Fundamentals of experimental design (2nd ed.). Allyn & Bacon.

Ong-Dean, C., Huie Hofstetter, C., & Strick, B. R. (2011). Challenges and dilemmas in implementing random assignment in educational research. American Journal of Evaluation , 32 (1), 29-49.

Orr, L. L. (1999). Social experiments: Evaluating public programs with experimental methods . Sage.

Shadish, W. R., Cook, T. D., & Campbell, D. T. (2002). Quasi-experiments: interrupted time-series designs. Experimental and quasi-experimental designs for generalized causal inference , 171-205.

Stigler, S. M. (1992). A historical view of statistical concepts in psychology and educational research. American Journal of Education , 101 (1), 60-70.

Dave

  • Dave Cornell (PhD) https://helpfulprofessor.com/author/dave-cornell-phd/ 23 Achieved Status Examples
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  • Dave Cornell (PhD) https://helpfulprofessor.com/author/dave-cornell-phd/ 18 Adaptive Behavior Examples

Chris

  • Chris Drew (PhD) https://helpfulprofessor.com/author/chris-drew-phd-2/ 23 Achieved Status Examples
  • Chris Drew (PhD) https://helpfulprofessor.com/author/chris-drew-phd-2/ 15 Ableism Examples
  • Chris Drew (PhD) https://helpfulprofessor.com/author/chris-drew-phd-2/ 25 Defense Mechanisms Examples
  • Chris Drew (PhD) https://helpfulprofessor.com/author/chris-drew-phd-2/ 15 Theory of Planned Behavior Examples

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Purpose and Limitations of Random Assignment

In an experimental study, random assignment is a process by which participants are assigned, with the same chance, to either a treatment or a control group. The goal is to assure an unbiased assignment of participants to treatment options.

Random assignment is considered the gold standard for achieving comparability across study groups, and therefore is the best method for inferring a causal relationship between a treatment (or intervention or risk factor) and an outcome.

Representation of random assignment in an experimental study

Random assignment of participants produces comparable groups regarding the participants’ initial characteristics, thereby any difference detected in the end between the treatment and the control group will be due to the effect of the treatment alone.

How does random assignment produce comparable groups?

1. random assignment prevents selection bias.

Randomization works by removing the researcher’s and the participant’s influence on the treatment allocation. So the allocation can no longer be biased since it is done at random, i.e. in a non-predictable way.

This is in contrast with the real world, where for example, the sickest people are more likely to receive the treatment.

2. Random assignment prevents confounding

A confounding variable is one that is associated with both the intervention and the outcome, and thus can affect the outcome in 2 ways:

Causal diagram representing how confounding works

Either directly:

Direct influence of confounding on the outcome

Or indirectly through the treatment:

Indirect influence of confounding on the outcome

This indirect relationship between the confounding variable and the outcome can cause the treatment to appear to have an influence on the outcome while in reality the treatment is just a mediator of that effect (as it happens to be on the causal pathway between the confounder and the outcome).

Random assignment eliminates the influence of the confounding variables on the treatment since it distributes them at random between the study groups, therefore, ruling out this alternative path or explanation of the outcome.

How random assignment protects from confounding

3. Random assignment also eliminates other threats to internal validity

By distributing all threats (known and unknown) at random between study groups, participants in both the treatment and the control group become equally subject to the effect of any threat to validity. Therefore, comparing the outcome between the 2 groups will bypass the effect of these threats and will only reflect the effect of the treatment on the outcome.

These threats include:

  • History: This is any event that co-occurs with the treatment and can affect the outcome.
  • Maturation: This is the effect of time on the study participants (e.g. participants becoming wiser, hungrier, or more stressed with time) which might influence the outcome.
  • Regression to the mean: This happens when the participants’ outcome score is exceptionally good on a pre-treatment measurement, so the post-treatment measurement scores will naturally regress toward the mean — in simple terms, regression happens since an exceptional performance is hard to maintain. This effect can bias the study since it represents an alternative explanation of the outcome.

Note that randomization does not prevent these effects from happening, it just allows us to control them by reducing their risk of being associated with the treatment.

What if random assignment produced unequal groups?

Question: What should you do if after randomly assigning participants, it turned out that the 2 groups still differ in participants’ characteristics? More precisely, what if randomization accidentally did not balance risk factors that can be alternative explanations between the 2 groups? (For example, if one group includes more male participants, or sicker, or older people than the other group).

Short answer: This is perfectly normal, since randomization only assures an unbiased assignment of participants to groups, i.e. it produces comparable groups, but it does not guarantee the equality of these groups.

A more complete answer: Randomization will not and cannot create 2 equal groups regarding each and every characteristic. This is because when dealing with randomization there is still an element of luck. If you want 2 perfectly equal groups, you better match them manually as is done in a matched pairs design (for more information see my article on matched pairs design ).

This is similar to throwing a die: If you throw it 10 times, the chance of getting a specific outcome will not be 1/6. But it will approach 1/6 if you repeat the experiment a very large number of times and calculate the average number of times the specific outcome turned up.

So randomization will not produce perfectly equal groups for each specific study, especially if the study has a small sample size. But do not forget that scientific evidence is a long and continuous process, and the groups will tend to be equal in the long run when a meta-analysis aggregates the results of a large number of randomized studies.

So for each individual study, differences between the treatment and control group will exist and will influence the study results. This means that the results of a randomized trial will sometimes be wrong, and this is absolutely okay.

BOTTOM LINE:

Although the results of a particular randomized study are unbiased, they will still be affected by a sampling error due to chance. But the real benefit of random assignment will be when data is aggregated in a meta-analysis.

Limitations of random assignment

Randomized designs can suffer from:

1. Ethical issues:

Randomization is ethical only if the researcher has no evidence that one treatment is superior to the other.

Also, it would be unethical to randomly assign participants to harmful exposures such as smoking or dangerous chemicals.

2. Low external validity:

With random assignment, external validity (i.e. the generalizability of the study results) is compromised because the results of a study that uses random assignment represent what would happen under “ideal” experimental conditions, which is in general very different from what happens at the population level.

In the real world, people who take the treatment might be very different from those who don’t – so the assignment of participants is not a random event, but rather under the influence of all sort of external factors.

External validity can be also jeopardized in cases where not all participants are eligible or willing to accept the terms of the study.

3. Higher cost of implementation:

An experimental design with random assignment is typically more expensive than observational studies where the investigator’s role is just to observe events without intervening.

Experimental designs also typically take a lot of time to implement, and therefore are less practical when a quick answer is needed.

4. Impracticality when answering non-causal questions:

A randomized trial is our best bet when the question is to find the causal effect of a treatment or a risk factor.

Sometimes however, the researcher is just interested in predicting the probability of an event or a disease given some risk factors. In this case, the causal relationship between these variables is not important, making observational designs more suitable for such problems.

5. Impracticality when studying the effect of variables that cannot be manipulated:

The usual objective of studying the effects of risk factors is to propose recommendations that involve changing the level of exposure to these factors.

However, some risk factors cannot be manipulated, and so it does not make any sense to study them in a randomized trial. For example it would be impossible to randomly assign participants to age categories, gender, or genetic factors.

6. Difficulty to control participants:

These difficulties include:

  • Participants refusing to receive the assigned treatment.
  • Participants not adhering to recommendations.
  • Differential loss to follow-up between those who receive the treatment and those who don’t.

All of these issues might occur in a randomized trial, but might not affect an observational study.

  • Shadish WR, Cook TD, Campbell DT. Experimental and Quasi-Experimental Designs for Generalized Causal Inference . 2nd edition. Cengage Learning; 2001.
  • Friedman LM, Furberg CD, DeMets DL, Reboussin DM, Granger CB. Fundamentals of Clinical Trials . 5th ed. 2015 edition. Springer; 2015.

Further reading

  • Posttest-Only Control Group Design
  • Pretest-Posttest Control Group Design
  • Randomized Block Design
Elements of Research

                                                                                   

Random assignment is a procedure used in experiments to create multiple study groups that include participants with similar characteristics so that the groups are equivalent at the beginning of the study. The procedure involves assigning individuals to an experimental treatment or program at random, or by chance (like the flip of a coin). This means that each individual has an equal chance of being assigned to either group. Usually in studies that involve random assignment, participants will receive a new treatment or program, will receive nothing at all or will receive an existing treatment. When using random assignment, neither the researcher nor the participant can choose the group to which the participant is assigned.

The benefit of using random assignment is that it “evens the playing field.” This means that the groups will differ only in the program or treatment to which they are assigned. If both groups are equivalent except for the program or treatment that they receive, then any change that is observed after comparing information collected about individuals at the beginning of the study and again at the end of the study can be attributed to the program or treatment. This way, the researcher has more confidence that any changes that might have occurred are due to the treatment under study and not to the characteristics of the group.

A potential problem with random assignment is the temptation to ignore the random assignment procedures. For example, it may be tempting to assign an overweight participant to the treatment group that includes participation in a weight-loss program. Ignoring random assignment procedures in this study limits the ability to determine whether or not the weight loss program is effective because the groups will not be randomized. Research staff must follow random assignment protocol, if that is part of the study design, to maintain the integrity of the research. Failure to follow procedures used for random assignment prevents the study outcomes from being meaningful and applicable to the groups represented.

                                

                                                                                                          

 

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Institution for Social and Policy Studies

Advancing research • shaping policy • developing leaders, why randomize.

About Randomized Field Experiments Randomized field experiments allow researchers to scientifically measure the impact of an intervention on a particular outcome of interest.

What is a randomized field experiment? In a randomized experiment, a study sample is divided into one group that will receive the intervention being studied (the treatment group) and another group that will not receive the intervention (the control group). For instance, a study sample might consist of all registered voters in a particular city. This sample will then be randomly divided into treatment and control groups. Perhaps 40% of the sample will be on a campaign’s Get-Out-the-Vote (GOTV) mailing list and the other 60% of the sample will not receive the GOTV mailings. The outcome measured –voter turnout– can then be compared in the two groups. The difference in turnout will reflect the effectiveness of the intervention.

What does random assignment mean? The key to randomized experimental research design is in the random assignment of study subjects – for example, individual voters, precincts, media markets or some other group – into treatment or control groups. Randomization has a very specific meaning in this context. It does not refer to haphazard or casual choosing of some and not others. Randomization in this context means that care is taken to ensure that no pattern exists between the assignment of subjects into groups and any characteristics of those subjects. Every subject is as likely as any other to be assigned to the treatment (or control) group. Randomization is generally achieved by employing a computer program containing a random number generator. Randomization procedures differ based upon the research design of the experiment. Individuals or groups may be randomly assigned to treatment or control groups. Some research designs stratify subjects by geographic, demographic or other factors prior to random assignment in order to maximize the statistical power of the estimated effect of the treatment (e.g., GOTV intervention). Information about the randomization procedure is included in each experiment summary on the site.

What are the advantages of randomized experimental designs? Randomized experimental design yields the most accurate analysis of the effect of an intervention (e.g., a voter mobilization phone drive or a visit from a GOTV canvasser, on voter behavior). By randomly assigning subjects to be in the group that receives the treatment or to be in the control group, researchers can measure the effect of the mobilization method regardless of other factors that may make some people or groups more likely to participate in the political process. To provide a simple example, say we are testing the effectiveness of a voter education program on high school seniors. If we allow students from the class to volunteer to participate in the program, and we then compare the volunteers’ voting behavior against those who did not participate, our results will reflect something other than the effects of the voter education intervention. This is because there are, no doubt, qualities about those volunteers that make them different from students who do not volunteer. And, most important for our work, those differences may very well correlate with propensity to vote. Instead of letting students self-select, or even letting teachers select students (as teachers may have biases in who they choose), we could randomly assign all students in a given class to be in either a treatment or control group. This would ensure that those in the treatment and control groups differ solely due to chance. The value of randomization may also be seen in the use of walk lists for door-to-door canvassers. If canvassers choose which houses they will go to and which they will skip, they may choose houses that seem more inviting or they may choose houses that are placed closely together rather than those that are more spread out. These differences could conceivably correlate with voter turnout. Or if house numbers are chosen by selecting those on the first half of a ten page list, they may be clustered in neighborhoods that differ in important ways from neighborhoods in the second half of the list. Random assignment controls for both known and unknown variables that can creep in with other selection processes to confound analyses. Randomized experimental design is a powerful tool for drawing valid inferences about cause and effect. The use of randomized experimental design should allow a degree of certainty that the research findings cited in studies that employ this methodology reflect the effects of the interventions being measured and not some other underlying variable or variables.

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  • v.43(2); Mar-Apr 2008

Issues in Outcomes Research: An Overview of Randomization Techniques for Clinical Trials

Minsoo kang.

1 Middle Tennessee State University, Murfreesboro, TN

Brian G Ragan

2 University of Northern Iowa, Cedar Falls, IA

Jae-Hyeon Park

3 Korea National Sport University, Seoul, Korea

To review and describe randomization techniques used in clinical trials, including simple, block, stratified, and covariate adaptive techniques.

Background:

Clinical trials are required to establish treatment efficacy of many athletic training procedures. In the past, we have relied on evidence of questionable scientific merit to aid the determination of treatment choices. Interest in evidence-based practice is growing rapidly within the athletic training profession, placing greater emphasis on the importance of well-conducted clinical trials. One critical component of clinical trials that strengthens results is random assignment of participants to control and treatment groups. Although randomization appears to be a simple concept, issues of balancing sample sizes and controlling the influence of covariates a priori are important. Various techniques have been developed to account for these issues, including block, stratified randomization, and covariate adaptive techniques.

Advantages:

Athletic training researchers and scholarly clinicians can use the information presented in this article to better conduct and interpret the results of clinical trials. Implementing these techniques will increase the power and validity of findings of athletic medicine clinical trials, which will ultimately improve the quality of care provided.

Outcomes research is critical in the evidence-based health care environment because it addresses scientific questions concerning the efficacy of treatments. Clinical trials are considered the “gold standard” for outcomes in biomedical research. In athletic training, calls for more evidence-based medical research, specifically clinical trials, have been issued. 1 , 2

The strength of clinical trials is their superior ability to measure change over time from a treatment. Treatment differences identified from cross-sectional observational designs rather than experimental clinical trials have methodologic weaknesses, including confounding, cohort effects, and selection bias. 3 For example, using a nonrandomized trial to examine the effectiveness of prophylactic knee bracing to prevent medial collateral ligament injuries may suffer from confounders and jeopardize the results. One possible confounder is a history of knee injuries. Participants with a history of knee injuries may be more likely to wear braces than those with no such history. Participants with a history of injury are more likely to suffer additional knee injuries, unbalancing the groups and influencing the results of the study.

The primary goal of comparative clinical trials is to provide comparisons of treatments with maximum precision and validity. 4 One critical component of clinical trials is random assignment of participants into groups. Randomizing participants helps remove the effect of extraneous variables (eg, age, injury history) and minimizes bias associated with treatment assignment. Randomization is considered by most researchers to be the optimal approach for participant assignment in clinical trials because it strengthens the results and data interpretation. 4 – , 9

One potential problem with small clinical trials (n < 100) 7 is that conventional simple randomization methods, such as flipping a coin, may result in imbalanced sample size and baseline characteristics (ie, covariates) among treatment and control groups. 9 , 10 This imbalance of baseline characteristics can influence the comparison between treatment and control groups and introduce potential confounding factors. Many procedures have been proposed for random group assignment of participants in clinical trials. 11 Simple, block, stratified, and covariate adaptive randomizations are some examples. Each technique has advantages and disadvantages, which must be carefully considered before a method is selected. Our purpose is to introduce the concept and significance of randomization and to review several conventional and relatively new randomization techniques to aid in the design and implementation of valid clinical trials.

What Is Randomization?

Randomization is the process of assigning participants to treatment and control groups, assuming that each participant has an equal chance of being assigned to any group. 12 Randomization has evolved into a fundamental aspect of scientific research methodology. Demands have increased for more randomized clinical trials in many areas of biomedical research, such as athletic training. 2 , 13 In fact, in the last 2 decades, internationally recognized major medical journals, such as the Journal of the American Medical Association and the BMJ , have been increasingly interested in publishing studies reporting results from randomized controlled trials. 5

Since Fisher 14 first introduced the idea of randomization in a 1926 agricultural study, the academic community has deemed randomization an essential tool for unbiased comparisons of treatment groups. Five years after Fisher's introductory paper, the first randomized clinical trial involving tuberculosis was conducted. 15 A total of 24 participants were paired (ie, 12 comparable pairs), and by a flip of a coin, each participant within the pair was assigned to either the control or treatment group. By employing randomization, researchers offer each participant an equal chance of being assigned to groups, which makes the groups comparable on the dependent variable by eliminating potential bias. Indeed, randomization of treatments in clinical trials is the only means of avoiding systematic characteristic bias of participants assigned to different treatments. Although randomization may be accomplished with a simple coin toss, more appropriate and better methods are often needed, especially in small clinical trials. These other methods will be discussed in this review.

Why Randomize?

Researchers demand randomization for several reasons. First, participants in various groups should not differ in any systematic way. In a clinical trial, if treatment groups are systematically different, trial results will be biased. Suppose that participants are assigned to control and treatment groups in a study examining the efficacy of a walking intervention. If a greater proportion of older adults is assigned to the treatment group, then the outcome of the walking intervention may be influenced by this imbalance. The effects of the treatment would be indistinguishable from the influence of the imbalance of covariates, thereby requiring the researcher to control for the covariates in the analysis to obtain an unbiased result. 16

Second, proper randomization ensures no a priori knowledge of group assignment (ie, allocation concealment). That is, researchers, participants, and others should not know to which group the participant will be assigned. Knowledge of group assignment creates a layer of potential selection bias that may taint the data. Schulz and Grimes 17 stated that trials with inadequate or unclear randomization tended to overestimate treatment effects up to 40% compared with those that used proper randomization. The outcome of the trial can be negatively influenced by this inadequate randomization.

Statistical techniques such as analysis of covariance (ANCOVA), multivariate ANCOVA, or both, are often used to adjust for covariate imbalance in the analysis stage of the clinical trial. However, the interpretation of this postadjustment approach is often difficult because imbalance of covariates frequently leads to unanticipated interaction effects, such as unequal slopes among subgroups of covariates. 18 , 19 One of the critical assumptions in ANCOVA is that the slopes of regression lines are the same for each group of covariates (ie, homogeneity of regression slopes). The adjustment needed for each covariate group may vary, which is problematic because ANCOVA uses the average slope across the groups to adjust the outcome variable. Thus, the ideal way of balancing covariates among groups is to apply sound randomization in the design stage of a clinical trial (before the adjustment procedure) instead of after data collection. In such instances, random assignment is necessary and guarantees validity for statistical tests of significance that are used to compare treatments.

How To Randomize?

Many procedures have been proposed for the random assignment of participants to treatment groups in clinical trials. In this article, common randomization techniques, including simple randomization, block randomization, stratified randomization, and covariate adaptive randomization, are reviewed. Each method is described along with its advantages and disadvantages. It is very important to select a method that will produce interpretable, valid results for your study.

Simple Randomization

Randomization based on a single sequence of random assignments is known as simple randomization. 10 This technique maintains complete randomness of the assignment of a person to a particular group. The most common and basic method of simple randomization is flipping a coin. For example, with 2 treatment groups (control versus treatment), the side of the coin (ie, heads  =  control, tails  =  treatment) determines the assignment of each participant. Other methods include using a shuffled deck of cards (eg, even  =  control, odd  =  treatment) or throwing a die (eg, below and equal to 3  =  control, over 3  =  treatment). A random number table found in a statistics book or computer-generated random numbers can also be used for simple randomization of participants.

This randomization approach is simple and easy to implement in a clinical trial. In large trials (n > 200), simple randomization can be trusted to generate similar numbers of participants among groups. However, randomization results could be problematic in relatively small sample size clinical trials (n < 100), resulting in an unequal number of participants among groups. For example, using a coin toss with a small sample size (n  =  10) may result in an imbalance such that 7 participants are assigned to the control group and 3 to the treatment group ( Figure 1 ).

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Block Randomization

The block randomization method is designed to randomize participants into groups that result in equal sample sizes. This method is used to ensure a balance in sample size across groups over time. Blocks are small and balanced with predetermined group assignments, which keeps the numbers of participants in each group similar at all times. According to Altman and Bland, 10 the block size is determined by the researcher and should be a multiple of the number of groups (ie, with 2 treatment groups, block size of either 4 or 6). Blocks are best used in smaller increments as researchers can more easily control balance. 7 After block size has been determined, all possible balanced combinations of assignment within the block (ie, equal number for all groups within the block) must be calculated. Blocks are then randomly chosen to determine the participants' assignment into the groups.

For a clinical trial with control and treatment groups involving 40 participants, a randomized block procedure would be as follows: (1) a block size of 4 is chosen, (2) possible balanced combinations with 2 C (control) and 2 T (treatment) subjects are calculated as 6 (TTCC, TCTC, TCCT, CTTC, CTCT, CCTT), and (3) blocks are randomly chosen to determine the assignment of all 40 participants (eg, one random sequence would be [TTCC / TCCT / CTTC / CTTC / TCCT / CCTT / TTCC / TCTC / CTCT / TCTC]). This procedure results in 20 participants in both the control and treatment groups ( Figure 2 ).

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Although balance in sample size may be achieved with this method, groups may be generated that are rarely comparable in terms of certain covariates. 6 For example, one group may have more participants with secondary diseases (eg, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, cancer) that could confound the data and may negatively influence the results of the clinical trial. Pocock and Simon 11 stressed the importance of controlling for these covariates because of serious consequences to the interpretation of the results. Such an imbalance could introduce bias in the statistical analysis and reduce the power of the study. 4 , 6 , 8 Hence, sample size and covariates must be balanced in small clinical trials.

Stratified Randomization

The stratified randomization method addresses the need to control and balance the influence of covariates. This method can be used to achieve balance among groups in terms of participants' baseline characteristics (covariates). Specific covariates must be identified by the researcher who understands the potential influence each covariate has on the dependent variable. Stratified randomization is achieved by generating a separate block for each combination of covariates, and participants are assigned to the appropriate block of covariates. After all participants have been identified and assigned into blocks, simple randomization occurs within each block to assign participants to one of the groups.

The stratified randomization method controls for the possible influence of covariates that would jeopardize the conclusions of the clinical trial. For example, a clinical trial of different rehabilitation techniques after a surgical procedure will have a number of covariates. It is well known that the age of the patient affects the rate of healing. Thus, age could be a confounding variable and influence the outcome of the clinical trial. Stratified randomization can balance the control and treatment groups for age or other identified covariates.

For example, with 2 groups involving 40 participants, the stratified randomization method might be used to control the covariates of sex (2 levels: male, female) and body mass index (3 levels: underweight, normal, overweight) between study arms. With these 2 covariates, possible block combinations total 6 (eg, male, underweight). A simple randomization procedure, such as flipping a coin, is used to assign the participants within each block to one of the treatment groups ( Figure 3 ).

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Although stratified randomization is a relatively simple and useful technique, especially for smaller clinical trials, it becomes complicated to implement if many covariates must be controlled. 20 For example, too many block combinations may lead to imbalances in overall treatment allocations because a large number of blocks can generate small participant numbers within the block. Therneau 21 purported that a balance in covariates begins to fail when the number of blocks approaches half the sample size. If another 4-level covariate was added to the example, the number of block combinations would increase from 6 to 24 (2 × 3 × 4), for an average of fewer than 2 (40 / 24  =  1.7) participants per block, reducing the usefulness of the procedure to balance the covariates and jeopardizing the validity of the clinical trial. In small studies, it may not be feasible to stratify more than 1 or 2 covariates because the number of blocks can quickly approach the number of participants. 10

Stratified randomization has another limitation: it works only when all participants have been identified before group assignment. This method is rarely applicable, however, because clinical trial participants are often enrolled one at a time on a continuous basis. When baseline characteristics of all participants are not available before assignment, using stratified randomization is difficult. 7

Covariate Adaptive Randomization

Covariate adaptive randomization has been recommended by many researchers as a valid alternative randomization method for clinical trials. 9 , 22 In covariate adaptive randomization, a new participant is sequentially assigned to a particular treatment group by taking into account the specific covariates and previous assignments of participants. 9 , 12 , 18 , 23 , 24 Covariate adaptive randomization uses the method of minimization by assessing the imbalance of sample size among several covariates. This covariate adaptive approach was first described by Taves. 23

The Taves covariate adaptive randomization method allows for the examination of previous participant group assignments to make a case-by-case decision on group assignment for each individual who enrolls in the study. Consider again the example of 2 groups involving 40 participants, with sex (2 levels: male, female) and body mass index (3 levels: underweight, normal, overweight) as covariates. Assume the first 9 participants have already been randomly assigned to groups by flipping a coin. The 9 participants' group assignments are broken down by covariate level in Figure 4 . Now the 10th participant, who is male and underweight, needs to be assigned to a group (ie, control versus treatment). Based on the characteristics of the 10th participant, the Taves method adds marginal totals of the corresponding covariate categories for each group and compares the totals. The participant is assigned to the group with the lower covariate total to minimize imbalance. In this example, the appropriate categories are male and underweight, which results in the total of 3 (2 for male category + 1 for underweight category) for the control group and a total of 5 (3 for male category + 2 for underweight category) for the treatment group. Because the sum of marginal totals is lower for the control group (3 < 5), the 10th participant is assigned to the control group ( Figure 5 ).

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The Pocock and Simon method 11 of covariate adaptive randomization is similar to the method Taves 23 described. The difference in this approach is the temporary assignment of participants to both groups. This method uses the absolute difference between groups to determine group assignment. To minimize imbalance, the participant is assigned to the group determined by the lowest sum of the absolute differences among the covariates between the groups. For example, using the previous situation in assigning the 10th participant to a group, the Pocock and Simon method would (1) assign the 10th participant temporarily to the control group, resulting in marginal totals of 3 for male category and 2 for underweight category; (2) calculate the absolute difference between control and treatment group (males: 3 control – 3 treatment  =  0; underweight: 2 control – 2 treatment  =  0) and sum (0 + 0  =  0); (3) temporarily assign the 10th participant to the treatment group, resulting in marginal totals of 4 for male category and 3 for underweight category; (4) calculate the absolute difference between control and treatment group (males: 2 control – 4 treatment  =  2; underweight: 1 control – 3 treatment  =  2) and sum (2 + 2  =  4); and (5) assign the 10th participant to the control group because of the lowest sum of absolute differences (0 < 4).

Pocock and Simon 11 also suggested using a variance approach. Instead of calculating absolute difference among groups, this approach calculates the variance among treatment groups. Although the variance method performs similarly to the absolute difference method, both approaches suffer from the limitation of handling only categorical covariates. 25

Frane 18 introduced a covariate adaptive randomization for both continuous and categorical types. Frane used P values to identify imbalance among treatment groups: a smaller P value represents more imbalance among treatment groups.

The Frane method for assigning participants to either the control or treatment group would include (1) temporarily assigning the participant to both the control and treatment groups; (2) calculating P values for each of the covariates using a t test and analysis of variance (ANOVA) for continuous variables and goodness-of-fit χ 2 test for categorical variables; (3) determining the minimum P value for each control or treatment group, which indicates more imbalance among treatment groups; and (4) assigning the participant to the group with the larger minimum P value (ie, try to avoid more imbalance in groups).

Going back to the previous example of assigning the 10th participant (male and underweight) to a group, the Frane method would result in the assignment to the control group. The steps used to make this decision were calculating P values for each of the covariates using the χ 2 goodness-of-fit test represented in the Table . The t tests and ANOVAs were not used because the covariates in this example were categorical. Based on the Table , the lowest minimum P values were 1.0 for the control group and 0.317 for the treatment group. The 10th participant was assigned to the control group because of the higher minimum P value, which indicates better balance in the control group (1.0 > 0.317).

Probabilities From χ 2 Goodness-of-Fit Tests for the Example Shown in Figure 5 (Frane 18 Method)

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Covariate adaptive randomization produces less imbalance than other conventional randomization methods and can be used successfully to balance important covariates among control and treatment groups. 6 Although the balance of covariates among groups using the stratified randomization method begins to fail when the number of blocks approaches half the sample size, covariate adaptive randomization can better handle the problem of increasing numbers of covariates (ie, increased block combinations). 9

One concern of these covariate adaptive randomization methods is that treatment assignments sometimes become highly predictable. Investigators using covariate adaptive randomization sometimes come to believe that group assignment for the next participant can be readily predicted, going against the basic concept of randomization. 12 , 26 , 27 This predictability stems from the ongoing assignment of participants to groups wherein the current allocation of participants may suggest future participant group assignment. In their review, Scott et al 9 argued that this predictability is also true of other methods, including stratified randomization, and it should not be overly penalized. Zielhuis et al 28 and Frane 18 suggested a practical approach to prevent predictability: a small number of participants should be randomly assigned into the groups before the covariate adaptive randomization technique being applied.

The complicated computation process of covariate adaptive randomization increases the administrative burden, thereby limiting its use in practice. A user-friendly computer program for covariate adaptive randomization is available (free of charge) upon request from the authors (M.K., B.G.R., or J.H.P.). 29

Conclusions

Our purpose was to introduce randomization, including its concept and significance, and to review several randomization techniques to guide athletic training researchers and practitioners to better design their randomized clinical trials. Many factors can affect the results of clinical research, but randomization is considered the gold standard in most clinical trials. It eliminates selection bias, ensures balance of sample size and baseline characteristics, and is an important step in guaranteeing the validity of statistical tests of significance used to compare treatment groups.

Before choosing a randomization method, several factors need to be considered, including the size of the clinical trial; the need for balance in sample size, covariates, or both; and participant enrollment. 16 Figure 6 depicts a flowchart designed to help select an appropriate randomization technique. For example, a power analysis for a clinical trial of different rehabilitation techniques after a surgical procedure indicated a sample size of 80. A well-known covariate for this study is age, which must be balanced among groups. Because of the nature of the study with postsurgical patients, participant recruitment and enrollment will be continuous. Using the flowchart, the appropriate randomization technique is covariate adaptive randomization technique.

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Simple randomization works well for a large trial (eg, n > 200) but not for a small trial (n < 100). 7 To achieve balance in sample size, block randomization is desirable. To achieve balance in baseline characteristics, stratified randomization is widely used. Covariate adaptive randomization, however, can achieve better balance than other randomization methods and can be successfully used for clinical trials in an effective manner.

Acknowledgments

This study was partially supported by a Faculty Grant (FRCAC) from the College of Graduate Studies, at Middle Tennessee State University, Murfreesboro, TN.

Minsoo Kang, PhD; Brian G. Ragan, PhD, ATC; and Jae-Hyeon Park, PhD, contributed to conception and design; acquisition and analysis and interpretation of the data; and drafting, critical revision, and final approval of the article.

Frequently asked questions

What is random assignment.

In experimental research, random assignment is a way of placing participants from your sample into different groups using randomization. With this method, every member of the sample has a known or equal chance of being placed in a control group or an experimental group.

Frequently asked questions: Methodology

Attrition refers to participants leaving a study. It always happens to some extent—for example, in randomized controlled trials for medical research.

Differential attrition occurs when attrition or dropout rates differ systematically between the intervention and the control group . As a result, the characteristics of the participants who drop out differ from the characteristics of those who stay in the study. Because of this, study results may be biased .

Action research is conducted in order to solve a particular issue immediately, while case studies are often conducted over a longer period of time and focus more on observing and analyzing a particular ongoing phenomenon.

Action research is focused on solving a problem or informing individual and community-based knowledge in a way that impacts teaching, learning, and other related processes. It is less focused on contributing theoretical input, instead producing actionable input.

Action research is particularly popular with educators as a form of systematic inquiry because it prioritizes reflection and bridges the gap between theory and practice. Educators are able to simultaneously investigate an issue as they solve it, and the method is very iterative and flexible.

A cycle of inquiry is another name for action research . It is usually visualized in a spiral shape following a series of steps, such as “planning → acting → observing → reflecting.”

To make quantitative observations , you need to use instruments that are capable of measuring the quantity you want to observe. For example, you might use a ruler to measure the length of an object or a thermometer to measure its temperature.

Criterion validity and construct validity are both types of measurement validity . In other words, they both show you how accurately a method measures something.

While construct validity is the degree to which a test or other measurement method measures what it claims to measure, criterion validity is the degree to which a test can predictively (in the future) or concurrently (in the present) measure something.

Construct validity is often considered the overarching type of measurement validity . You need to have face validity , content validity , and criterion validity in order to achieve construct validity.

Convergent validity and discriminant validity are both subtypes of construct validity . Together, they help you evaluate whether a test measures the concept it was designed to measure.

  • Convergent validity indicates whether a test that is designed to measure a particular construct correlates with other tests that assess the same or similar construct.
  • Discriminant validity indicates whether two tests that should not be highly related to each other are indeed not related. This type of validity is also called divergent validity .

You need to assess both in order to demonstrate construct validity. Neither one alone is sufficient for establishing construct validity.

  • Discriminant validity indicates whether two tests that should not be highly related to each other are indeed not related

Content validity shows you how accurately a test or other measurement method taps  into the various aspects of the specific construct you are researching.

In other words, it helps you answer the question: “does the test measure all aspects of the construct I want to measure?” If it does, then the test has high content validity.

The higher the content validity, the more accurate the measurement of the construct.

If the test fails to include parts of the construct, or irrelevant parts are included, the validity of the instrument is threatened, which brings your results into question.

Face validity and content validity are similar in that they both evaluate how suitable the content of a test is. The difference is that face validity is subjective, and assesses content at surface level.

When a test has strong face validity, anyone would agree that the test’s questions appear to measure what they are intended to measure.

For example, looking at a 4th grade math test consisting of problems in which students have to add and multiply, most people would agree that it has strong face validity (i.e., it looks like a math test).

On the other hand, content validity evaluates how well a test represents all the aspects of a topic. Assessing content validity is more systematic and relies on expert evaluation. of each question, analyzing whether each one covers the aspects that the test was designed to cover.

A 4th grade math test would have high content validity if it covered all the skills taught in that grade. Experts(in this case, math teachers), would have to evaluate the content validity by comparing the test to the learning objectives.

Snowball sampling is a non-probability sampling method . Unlike probability sampling (which involves some form of random selection ), the initial individuals selected to be studied are the ones who recruit new participants.

Because not every member of the target population has an equal chance of being recruited into the sample, selection in snowball sampling is non-random.

Snowball sampling is a non-probability sampling method , where there is not an equal chance for every member of the population to be included in the sample .

This means that you cannot use inferential statistics and make generalizations —often the goal of quantitative research . As such, a snowball sample is not representative of the target population and is usually a better fit for qualitative research .

Snowball sampling relies on the use of referrals. Here, the researcher recruits one or more initial participants, who then recruit the next ones.

Participants share similar characteristics and/or know each other. Because of this, not every member of the population has an equal chance of being included in the sample, giving rise to sampling bias .

Snowball sampling is best used in the following cases:

  • If there is no sampling frame available (e.g., people with a rare disease)
  • If the population of interest is hard to access or locate (e.g., people experiencing homelessness)
  • If the research focuses on a sensitive topic (e.g., extramarital affairs)

The reproducibility and replicability of a study can be ensured by writing a transparent, detailed method section and using clear, unambiguous language.

Reproducibility and replicability are related terms.

  • Reproducing research entails reanalyzing the existing data in the same manner.
  • Replicating (or repeating ) the research entails reconducting the entire analysis, including the collection of new data . 
  • A successful reproduction shows that the data analyses were conducted in a fair and honest manner.
  • A successful replication shows that the reliability of the results is high.

Stratified sampling and quota sampling both involve dividing the population into subgroups and selecting units from each subgroup. The purpose in both cases is to select a representative sample and/or to allow comparisons between subgroups.

The main difference is that in stratified sampling, you draw a random sample from each subgroup ( probability sampling ). In quota sampling you select a predetermined number or proportion of units, in a non-random manner ( non-probability sampling ).

Purposive and convenience sampling are both sampling methods that are typically used in qualitative data collection.

A convenience sample is drawn from a source that is conveniently accessible to the researcher. Convenience sampling does not distinguish characteristics among the participants. On the other hand, purposive sampling focuses on selecting participants possessing characteristics associated with the research study.

The findings of studies based on either convenience or purposive sampling can only be generalized to the (sub)population from which the sample is drawn, and not to the entire population.

Random sampling or probability sampling is based on random selection. This means that each unit has an equal chance (i.e., equal probability) of being included in the sample.

On the other hand, convenience sampling involves stopping people at random, which means that not everyone has an equal chance of being selected depending on the place, time, or day you are collecting your data.

Convenience sampling and quota sampling are both non-probability sampling methods. They both use non-random criteria like availability, geographical proximity, or expert knowledge to recruit study participants.

However, in convenience sampling, you continue to sample units or cases until you reach the required sample size.

In quota sampling, you first need to divide your population of interest into subgroups (strata) and estimate their proportions (quota) in the population. Then you can start your data collection, using convenience sampling to recruit participants, until the proportions in each subgroup coincide with the estimated proportions in the population.

A sampling frame is a list of every member in the entire population . It is important that the sampling frame is as complete as possible, so that your sample accurately reflects your population.

Stratified and cluster sampling may look similar, but bear in mind that groups created in cluster sampling are heterogeneous , so the individual characteristics in the cluster vary. In contrast, groups created in stratified sampling are homogeneous , as units share characteristics.

Relatedly, in cluster sampling you randomly select entire groups and include all units of each group in your sample. However, in stratified sampling, you select some units of all groups and include them in your sample. In this way, both methods can ensure that your sample is representative of the target population .

A systematic review is secondary research because it uses existing research. You don’t collect new data yourself.

The key difference between observational studies and experimental designs is that a well-done observational study does not influence the responses of participants, while experiments do have some sort of treatment condition applied to at least some participants by random assignment .

An observational study is a great choice for you if your research question is based purely on observations. If there are ethical, logistical, or practical concerns that prevent you from conducting a traditional experiment , an observational study may be a good choice. In an observational study, there is no interference or manipulation of the research subjects, as well as no control or treatment groups .

It’s often best to ask a variety of people to review your measurements. You can ask experts, such as other researchers, or laypeople, such as potential participants, to judge the face validity of tests.

While experts have a deep understanding of research methods , the people you’re studying can provide you with valuable insights you may have missed otherwise.

Face validity is important because it’s a simple first step to measuring the overall validity of a test or technique. It’s a relatively intuitive, quick, and easy way to start checking whether a new measure seems useful at first glance.

Good face validity means that anyone who reviews your measure says that it seems to be measuring what it’s supposed to. With poor face validity, someone reviewing your measure may be left confused about what you’re measuring and why you’re using this method.

Face validity is about whether a test appears to measure what it’s supposed to measure. This type of validity is concerned with whether a measure seems relevant and appropriate for what it’s assessing only on the surface.

Statistical analyses are often applied to test validity with data from your measures. You test convergent validity and discriminant validity with correlations to see if results from your test are positively or negatively related to those of other established tests.

You can also use regression analyses to assess whether your measure is actually predictive of outcomes that you expect it to predict theoretically. A regression analysis that supports your expectations strengthens your claim of construct validity .

When designing or evaluating a measure, construct validity helps you ensure you’re actually measuring the construct you’re interested in. If you don’t have construct validity, you may inadvertently measure unrelated or distinct constructs and lose precision in your research.

Construct validity is often considered the overarching type of measurement validity ,  because it covers all of the other types. You need to have face validity , content validity , and criterion validity to achieve construct validity.

Construct validity is about how well a test measures the concept it was designed to evaluate. It’s one of four types of measurement validity , which includes construct validity, face validity , and criterion validity.

There are two subtypes of construct validity.

  • Convergent validity : The extent to which your measure corresponds to measures of related constructs
  • Discriminant validity : The extent to which your measure is unrelated or negatively related to measures of distinct constructs

Naturalistic observation is a valuable tool because of its flexibility, external validity , and suitability for topics that can’t be studied in a lab setting.

The downsides of naturalistic observation include its lack of scientific control , ethical considerations , and potential for bias from observers and subjects.

Naturalistic observation is a qualitative research method where you record the behaviors of your research subjects in real world settings. You avoid interfering or influencing anything in a naturalistic observation.

You can think of naturalistic observation as “people watching” with a purpose.

A dependent variable is what changes as a result of the independent variable manipulation in experiments . It’s what you’re interested in measuring, and it “depends” on your independent variable.

In statistics, dependent variables are also called:

  • Response variables (they respond to a change in another variable)
  • Outcome variables (they represent the outcome you want to measure)
  • Left-hand-side variables (they appear on the left-hand side of a regression equation)

An independent variable is the variable you manipulate, control, or vary in an experimental study to explore its effects. It’s called “independent” because it’s not influenced by any other variables in the study.

Independent variables are also called:

  • Explanatory variables (they explain an event or outcome)
  • Predictor variables (they can be used to predict the value of a dependent variable)
  • Right-hand-side variables (they appear on the right-hand side of a regression equation).

As a rule of thumb, questions related to thoughts, beliefs, and feelings work well in focus groups. Take your time formulating strong questions, paying special attention to phrasing. Be careful to avoid leading questions , which can bias your responses.

Overall, your focus group questions should be:

  • Open-ended and flexible
  • Impossible to answer with “yes” or “no” (questions that start with “why” or “how” are often best)
  • Unambiguous, getting straight to the point while still stimulating discussion
  • Unbiased and neutral

A structured interview is a data collection method that relies on asking questions in a set order to collect data on a topic. They are often quantitative in nature. Structured interviews are best used when: 

  • You already have a very clear understanding of your topic. Perhaps significant research has already been conducted, or you have done some prior research yourself, but you already possess a baseline for designing strong structured questions.
  • You are constrained in terms of time or resources and need to analyze your data quickly and efficiently.
  • Your research question depends on strong parity between participants, with environmental conditions held constant.

More flexible interview options include semi-structured interviews , unstructured interviews , and focus groups .

Social desirability bias is the tendency for interview participants to give responses that will be viewed favorably by the interviewer or other participants. It occurs in all types of interviews and surveys , but is most common in semi-structured interviews , unstructured interviews , and focus groups .

Social desirability bias can be mitigated by ensuring participants feel at ease and comfortable sharing their views. Make sure to pay attention to your own body language and any physical or verbal cues, such as nodding or widening your eyes.

This type of bias can also occur in observations if the participants know they’re being observed. They might alter their behavior accordingly.

The interviewer effect is a type of bias that emerges when a characteristic of an interviewer (race, age, gender identity, etc.) influences the responses given by the interviewee.

There is a risk of an interviewer effect in all types of interviews , but it can be mitigated by writing really high-quality interview questions.

A semi-structured interview is a blend of structured and unstructured types of interviews. Semi-structured interviews are best used when:

  • You have prior interview experience. Spontaneous questions are deceptively challenging, and it’s easy to accidentally ask a leading question or make a participant uncomfortable.
  • Your research question is exploratory in nature. Participant answers can guide future research questions and help you develop a more robust knowledge base for future research.

An unstructured interview is the most flexible type of interview, but it is not always the best fit for your research topic.

Unstructured interviews are best used when:

  • You are an experienced interviewer and have a very strong background in your research topic, since it is challenging to ask spontaneous, colloquial questions.
  • Your research question is exploratory in nature. While you may have developed hypotheses, you are open to discovering new or shifting viewpoints through the interview process.
  • You are seeking descriptive data, and are ready to ask questions that will deepen and contextualize your initial thoughts and hypotheses.
  • Your research depends on forming connections with your participants and making them feel comfortable revealing deeper emotions, lived experiences, or thoughts.

The four most common types of interviews are:

  • Structured interviews : The questions are predetermined in both topic and order. 
  • Semi-structured interviews : A few questions are predetermined, but other questions aren’t planned.
  • Unstructured interviews : None of the questions are predetermined.
  • Focus group interviews : The questions are presented to a group instead of one individual.

Deductive reasoning is commonly used in scientific research, and it’s especially associated with quantitative research .

In research, you might have come across something called the hypothetico-deductive method . It’s the scientific method of testing hypotheses to check whether your predictions are substantiated by real-world data.

Deductive reasoning is a logical approach where you progress from general ideas to specific conclusions. It’s often contrasted with inductive reasoning , where you start with specific observations and form general conclusions.

Deductive reasoning is also called deductive logic.

There are many different types of inductive reasoning that people use formally or informally.

Here are a few common types:

  • Inductive generalization : You use observations about a sample to come to a conclusion about the population it came from.
  • Statistical generalization: You use specific numbers about samples to make statements about populations.
  • Causal reasoning: You make cause-and-effect links between different things.
  • Sign reasoning: You make a conclusion about a correlational relationship between different things.
  • Analogical reasoning: You make a conclusion about something based on its similarities to something else.

Inductive reasoning is a bottom-up approach, while deductive reasoning is top-down.

Inductive reasoning takes you from the specific to the general, while in deductive reasoning, you make inferences by going from general premises to specific conclusions.

In inductive research , you start by making observations or gathering data. Then, you take a broad scan of your data and search for patterns. Finally, you make general conclusions that you might incorporate into theories.

Inductive reasoning is a method of drawing conclusions by going from the specific to the general. It’s usually contrasted with deductive reasoning, where you proceed from general information to specific conclusions.

Inductive reasoning is also called inductive logic or bottom-up reasoning.

A hypothesis states your predictions about what your research will find. It is a tentative answer to your research question that has not yet been tested. For some research projects, you might have to write several hypotheses that address different aspects of your research question.

A hypothesis is not just a guess — it should be based on existing theories and knowledge. It also has to be testable, which means you can support or refute it through scientific research methods (such as experiments, observations and statistical analysis of data).

Triangulation can help:

  • Reduce research bias that comes from using a single method, theory, or investigator
  • Enhance validity by approaching the same topic with different tools
  • Establish credibility by giving you a complete picture of the research problem

But triangulation can also pose problems:

  • It’s time-consuming and labor-intensive, often involving an interdisciplinary team.
  • Your results may be inconsistent or even contradictory.

There are four main types of triangulation :

  • Data triangulation : Using data from different times, spaces, and people
  • Investigator triangulation : Involving multiple researchers in collecting or analyzing data
  • Theory triangulation : Using varying theoretical perspectives in your research
  • Methodological triangulation : Using different methodologies to approach the same topic

Many academic fields use peer review , largely to determine whether a manuscript is suitable for publication. Peer review enhances the credibility of the published manuscript.

However, peer review is also common in non-academic settings. The United Nations, the European Union, and many individual nations use peer review to evaluate grant applications. It is also widely used in medical and health-related fields as a teaching or quality-of-care measure. 

Peer assessment is often used in the classroom as a pedagogical tool. Both receiving feedback and providing it are thought to enhance the learning process, helping students think critically and collaboratively.

Peer review can stop obviously problematic, falsified, or otherwise untrustworthy research from being published. It also represents an excellent opportunity to get feedback from renowned experts in your field. It acts as a first defense, helping you ensure your argument is clear and that there are no gaps, vague terms, or unanswered questions for readers who weren’t involved in the research process.

Peer-reviewed articles are considered a highly credible source due to this stringent process they go through before publication.

In general, the peer review process follows the following steps: 

  • First, the author submits the manuscript to the editor.
  • Reject the manuscript and send it back to author, or 
  • Send it onward to the selected peer reviewer(s) 
  • Next, the peer review process occurs. The reviewer provides feedback, addressing any major or minor issues with the manuscript, and gives their advice regarding what edits should be made. 
  • Lastly, the edited manuscript is sent back to the author. They input the edits, and resubmit it to the editor for publication.

Exploratory research is often used when the issue you’re studying is new or when the data collection process is challenging for some reason.

You can use exploratory research if you have a general idea or a specific question that you want to study but there is no preexisting knowledge or paradigm with which to study it.

Exploratory research is a methodology approach that explores research questions that have not previously been studied in depth. It is often used when the issue you’re studying is new, or the data collection process is challenging in some way.

Explanatory research is used to investigate how or why a phenomenon occurs. Therefore, this type of research is often one of the first stages in the research process , serving as a jumping-off point for future research.

Exploratory research aims to explore the main aspects of an under-researched problem, while explanatory research aims to explain the causes and consequences of a well-defined problem.

Explanatory research is a research method used to investigate how or why something occurs when only a small amount of information is available pertaining to that topic. It can help you increase your understanding of a given topic.

Clean data are valid, accurate, complete, consistent, unique, and uniform. Dirty data include inconsistencies and errors.

Dirty data can come from any part of the research process, including poor research design , inappropriate measurement materials, or flawed data entry.

Data cleaning takes place between data collection and data analyses. But you can use some methods even before collecting data.

For clean data, you should start by designing measures that collect valid data. Data validation at the time of data entry or collection helps you minimize the amount of data cleaning you’ll need to do.

After data collection, you can use data standardization and data transformation to clean your data. You’ll also deal with any missing values, outliers, and duplicate values.

Every dataset requires different techniques to clean dirty data , but you need to address these issues in a systematic way. You focus on finding and resolving data points that don’t agree or fit with the rest of your dataset.

These data might be missing values, outliers, duplicate values, incorrectly formatted, or irrelevant. You’ll start with screening and diagnosing your data. Then, you’ll often standardize and accept or remove data to make your dataset consistent and valid.

Data cleaning is necessary for valid and appropriate analyses. Dirty data contain inconsistencies or errors , but cleaning your data helps you minimize or resolve these.

Without data cleaning, you could end up with a Type I or II error in your conclusion. These types of erroneous conclusions can be practically significant with important consequences, because they lead to misplaced investments or missed opportunities.

Data cleaning involves spotting and resolving potential data inconsistencies or errors to improve your data quality. An error is any value (e.g., recorded weight) that doesn’t reflect the true value (e.g., actual weight) of something that’s being measured.

In this process, you review, analyze, detect, modify, or remove “dirty” data to make your dataset “clean.” Data cleaning is also called data cleansing or data scrubbing.

Research misconduct means making up or falsifying data, manipulating data analyses, or misrepresenting results in research reports. It’s a form of academic fraud.

These actions are committed intentionally and can have serious consequences; research misconduct is not a simple mistake or a point of disagreement but a serious ethical failure.

Anonymity means you don’t know who the participants are, while confidentiality means you know who they are but remove identifying information from your research report. Both are important ethical considerations .

You can only guarantee anonymity by not collecting any personally identifying information—for example, names, phone numbers, email addresses, IP addresses, physical characteristics, photos, or videos.

You can keep data confidential by using aggregate information in your research report, so that you only refer to groups of participants rather than individuals.

Research ethics matter for scientific integrity, human rights and dignity, and collaboration between science and society. These principles make sure that participation in studies is voluntary, informed, and safe.

Ethical considerations in research are a set of principles that guide your research designs and practices. These principles include voluntary participation, informed consent, anonymity, confidentiality, potential for harm, and results communication.

Scientists and researchers must always adhere to a certain code of conduct when collecting data from others .

These considerations protect the rights of research participants, enhance research validity , and maintain scientific integrity.

In multistage sampling , you can use probability or non-probability sampling methods .

For a probability sample, you have to conduct probability sampling at every stage.

You can mix it up by using simple random sampling , systematic sampling , or stratified sampling to select units at different stages, depending on what is applicable and relevant to your study.

Multistage sampling can simplify data collection when you have large, geographically spread samples, and you can obtain a probability sample without a complete sampling frame.

But multistage sampling may not lead to a representative sample, and larger samples are needed for multistage samples to achieve the statistical properties of simple random samples .

These are four of the most common mixed methods designs :

  • Convergent parallel: Quantitative and qualitative data are collected at the same time and analyzed separately. After both analyses are complete, compare your results to draw overall conclusions. 
  • Embedded: Quantitative and qualitative data are collected at the same time, but within a larger quantitative or qualitative design. One type of data is secondary to the other.
  • Explanatory sequential: Quantitative data is collected and analyzed first, followed by qualitative data. You can use this design if you think your qualitative data will explain and contextualize your quantitative findings.
  • Exploratory sequential: Qualitative data is collected and analyzed first, followed by quantitative data. You can use this design if you think the quantitative data will confirm or validate your qualitative findings.

Triangulation in research means using multiple datasets, methods, theories and/or investigators to address a research question. It’s a research strategy that can help you enhance the validity and credibility of your findings.

Triangulation is mainly used in qualitative research , but it’s also commonly applied in quantitative research . Mixed methods research always uses triangulation.

In multistage sampling , or multistage cluster sampling, you draw a sample from a population using smaller and smaller groups at each stage.

This method is often used to collect data from a large, geographically spread group of people in national surveys, for example. You take advantage of hierarchical groupings (e.g., from state to city to neighborhood) to create a sample that’s less expensive and time-consuming to collect data from.

No, the steepness or slope of the line isn’t related to the correlation coefficient value. The correlation coefficient only tells you how closely your data fit on a line, so two datasets with the same correlation coefficient can have very different slopes.

To find the slope of the line, you’ll need to perform a regression analysis .

Correlation coefficients always range between -1 and 1.

The sign of the coefficient tells you the direction of the relationship: a positive value means the variables change together in the same direction, while a negative value means they change together in opposite directions.

The absolute value of a number is equal to the number without its sign. The absolute value of a correlation coefficient tells you the magnitude of the correlation: the greater the absolute value, the stronger the correlation.

These are the assumptions your data must meet if you want to use Pearson’s r :

  • Both variables are on an interval or ratio level of measurement
  • Data from both variables follow normal distributions
  • Your data have no outliers
  • Your data is from a random or representative sample
  • You expect a linear relationship between the two variables

Quantitative research designs can be divided into two main categories:

  • Correlational and descriptive designs are used to investigate characteristics, averages, trends, and associations between variables.
  • Experimental and quasi-experimental designs are used to test causal relationships .

Qualitative research designs tend to be more flexible. Common types of qualitative design include case study , ethnography , and grounded theory designs.

A well-planned research design helps ensure that your methods match your research aims, that you collect high-quality data, and that you use the right kind of analysis to answer your questions, utilizing credible sources . This allows you to draw valid , trustworthy conclusions.

The priorities of a research design can vary depending on the field, but you usually have to specify:

  • Your research questions and/or hypotheses
  • Your overall approach (e.g., qualitative or quantitative )
  • The type of design you’re using (e.g., a survey , experiment , or case study )
  • Your sampling methods or criteria for selecting subjects
  • Your data collection methods (e.g., questionnaires , observations)
  • Your data collection procedures (e.g., operationalization , timing and data management)
  • Your data analysis methods (e.g., statistical tests  or thematic analysis )

A research design is a strategy for answering your   research question . It defines your overall approach and determines how you will collect and analyze data.

Questionnaires can be self-administered or researcher-administered.

Self-administered questionnaires can be delivered online or in paper-and-pen formats, in person or through mail. All questions are standardized so that all respondents receive the same questions with identical wording.

Researcher-administered questionnaires are interviews that take place by phone, in-person, or online between researchers and respondents. You can gain deeper insights by clarifying questions for respondents or asking follow-up questions.

You can organize the questions logically, with a clear progression from simple to complex, or randomly between respondents. A logical flow helps respondents process the questionnaire easier and quicker, but it may lead to bias. Randomization can minimize the bias from order effects.

Closed-ended, or restricted-choice, questions offer respondents a fixed set of choices to select from. These questions are easier to answer quickly.

Open-ended or long-form questions allow respondents to answer in their own words. Because there are no restrictions on their choices, respondents can answer in ways that researchers may not have otherwise considered.

A questionnaire is a data collection tool or instrument, while a survey is an overarching research method that involves collecting and analyzing data from people using questionnaires.

The third variable and directionality problems are two main reasons why correlation isn’t causation .

The third variable problem means that a confounding variable affects both variables to make them seem causally related when they are not.

The directionality problem is when two variables correlate and might actually have a causal relationship, but it’s impossible to conclude which variable causes changes in the other.

Correlation describes an association between variables : when one variable changes, so does the other. A correlation is a statistical indicator of the relationship between variables.

Causation means that changes in one variable brings about changes in the other (i.e., there is a cause-and-effect relationship between variables). The two variables are correlated with each other, and there’s also a causal link between them.

While causation and correlation can exist simultaneously, correlation does not imply causation. In other words, correlation is simply a relationship where A relates to B—but A doesn’t necessarily cause B to happen (or vice versa). Mistaking correlation for causation is a common error and can lead to false cause fallacy .

Controlled experiments establish causality, whereas correlational studies only show associations between variables.

  • In an experimental design , you manipulate an independent variable and measure its effect on a dependent variable. Other variables are controlled so they can’t impact the results.
  • In a correlational design , you measure variables without manipulating any of them. You can test whether your variables change together, but you can’t be sure that one variable caused a change in another.

In general, correlational research is high in external validity while experimental research is high in internal validity .

A correlation is usually tested for two variables at a time, but you can test correlations between three or more variables.

A correlation coefficient is a single number that describes the strength and direction of the relationship between your variables.

Different types of correlation coefficients might be appropriate for your data based on their levels of measurement and distributions . The Pearson product-moment correlation coefficient (Pearson’s r ) is commonly used to assess a linear relationship between two quantitative variables.

A correlational research design investigates relationships between two variables (or more) without the researcher controlling or manipulating any of them. It’s a non-experimental type of quantitative research .

A correlation reflects the strength and/or direction of the association between two or more variables.

  • A positive correlation means that both variables change in the same direction.
  • A negative correlation means that the variables change in opposite directions.
  • A zero correlation means there’s no relationship between the variables.

Random error  is almost always present in scientific studies, even in highly controlled settings. While you can’t eradicate it completely, you can reduce random error by taking repeated measurements, using a large sample, and controlling extraneous variables .

You can avoid systematic error through careful design of your sampling , data collection , and analysis procedures. For example, use triangulation to measure your variables using multiple methods; regularly calibrate instruments or procedures; use random sampling and random assignment ; and apply masking (blinding) where possible.

Systematic error is generally a bigger problem in research.

With random error, multiple measurements will tend to cluster around the true value. When you’re collecting data from a large sample , the errors in different directions will cancel each other out.

Systematic errors are much more problematic because they can skew your data away from the true value. This can lead you to false conclusions ( Type I and II errors ) about the relationship between the variables you’re studying.

Random and systematic error are two types of measurement error.

Random error is a chance difference between the observed and true values of something (e.g., a researcher misreading a weighing scale records an incorrect measurement).

Systematic error is a consistent or proportional difference between the observed and true values of something (e.g., a miscalibrated scale consistently records weights as higher than they actually are).

On graphs, the explanatory variable is conventionally placed on the x-axis, while the response variable is placed on the y-axis.

  • If you have quantitative variables , use a scatterplot or a line graph.
  • If your response variable is categorical, use a scatterplot or a line graph.
  • If your explanatory variable is categorical, use a bar graph.

The term “ explanatory variable ” is sometimes preferred over “ independent variable ” because, in real world contexts, independent variables are often influenced by other variables. This means they aren’t totally independent.

Multiple independent variables may also be correlated with each other, so “explanatory variables” is a more appropriate term.

The difference between explanatory and response variables is simple:

  • An explanatory variable is the expected cause, and it explains the results.
  • A response variable is the expected effect, and it responds to other variables.

In a controlled experiment , all extraneous variables are held constant so that they can’t influence the results. Controlled experiments require:

  • A control group that receives a standard treatment, a fake treatment, or no treatment.
  • Random assignment of participants to ensure the groups are equivalent.

Depending on your study topic, there are various other methods of controlling variables .

There are 4 main types of extraneous variables :

  • Demand characteristics : environmental cues that encourage participants to conform to researchers’ expectations.
  • Experimenter effects : unintentional actions by researchers that influence study outcomes.
  • Situational variables : environmental variables that alter participants’ behaviors.
  • Participant variables : any characteristic or aspect of a participant’s background that could affect study results.

An extraneous variable is any variable that you’re not investigating that can potentially affect the dependent variable of your research study.

A confounding variable is a type of extraneous variable that not only affects the dependent variable, but is also related to the independent variable.

In a factorial design, multiple independent variables are tested.

If you test two variables, each level of one independent variable is combined with each level of the other independent variable to create different conditions.

Within-subjects designs have many potential threats to internal validity , but they are also very statistically powerful .

Advantages:

  • Only requires small samples
  • Statistically powerful
  • Removes the effects of individual differences on the outcomes

Disadvantages:

  • Internal validity threats reduce the likelihood of establishing a direct relationship between variables
  • Time-related effects, such as growth, can influence the outcomes
  • Carryover effects mean that the specific order of different treatments affect the outcomes

While a between-subjects design has fewer threats to internal validity , it also requires more participants for high statistical power than a within-subjects design .

  • Prevents carryover effects of learning and fatigue.
  • Shorter study duration.
  • Needs larger samples for high power.
  • Uses more resources to recruit participants, administer sessions, cover costs, etc.
  • Individual differences may be an alternative explanation for results.

Yes. Between-subjects and within-subjects designs can be combined in a single study when you have two or more independent variables (a factorial design). In a mixed factorial design, one variable is altered between subjects and another is altered within subjects.

In a between-subjects design , every participant experiences only one condition, and researchers assess group differences between participants in various conditions.

In a within-subjects design , each participant experiences all conditions, and researchers test the same participants repeatedly for differences between conditions.

The word “between” means that you’re comparing different conditions between groups, while the word “within” means you’re comparing different conditions within the same group.

Random assignment is used in experiments with a between-groups or independent measures design. In this research design, there’s usually a control group and one or more experimental groups. Random assignment helps ensure that the groups are comparable.

In general, you should always use random assignment in this type of experimental design when it is ethically possible and makes sense for your study topic.

To implement random assignment , assign a unique number to every member of your study’s sample .

Then, you can use a random number generator or a lottery method to randomly assign each number to a control or experimental group. You can also do so manually, by flipping a coin or rolling a dice to randomly assign participants to groups.

Random selection, or random sampling , is a way of selecting members of a population for your study’s sample.

In contrast, random assignment is a way of sorting the sample into control and experimental groups.

Random sampling enhances the external validity or generalizability of your results, while random assignment improves the internal validity of your study.

“Controlling for a variable” means measuring extraneous variables and accounting for them statistically to remove their effects on other variables.

Researchers often model control variable data along with independent and dependent variable data in regression analyses and ANCOVAs . That way, you can isolate the control variable’s effects from the relationship between the variables of interest.

Control variables help you establish a correlational or causal relationship between variables by enhancing internal validity .

If you don’t control relevant extraneous variables , they may influence the outcomes of your study, and you may not be able to demonstrate that your results are really an effect of your independent variable .

A control variable is any variable that’s held constant in a research study. It’s not a variable of interest in the study, but it’s controlled because it could influence the outcomes.

Including mediators and moderators in your research helps you go beyond studying a simple relationship between two variables for a fuller picture of the real world. They are important to consider when studying complex correlational or causal relationships.

Mediators are part of the causal pathway of an effect, and they tell you how or why an effect takes place. Moderators usually help you judge the external validity of your study by identifying the limitations of when the relationship between variables holds.

If something is a mediating variable :

  • It’s caused by the independent variable .
  • It influences the dependent variable
  • When it’s taken into account, the statistical correlation between the independent and dependent variables is higher than when it isn’t considered.

A confounder is a third variable that affects variables of interest and makes them seem related when they are not. In contrast, a mediator is the mechanism of a relationship between two variables: it explains the process by which they are related.

A mediator variable explains the process through which two variables are related, while a moderator variable affects the strength and direction of that relationship.

There are three key steps in systematic sampling :

  • Define and list your population , ensuring that it is not ordered in a cyclical or periodic order.
  • Decide on your sample size and calculate your interval, k , by dividing your population by your target sample size.
  • Choose every k th member of the population as your sample.

Systematic sampling is a probability sampling method where researchers select members of the population at a regular interval – for example, by selecting every 15th person on a list of the population. If the population is in a random order, this can imitate the benefits of simple random sampling .

Yes, you can create a stratified sample using multiple characteristics, but you must ensure that every participant in your study belongs to one and only one subgroup. In this case, you multiply the numbers of subgroups for each characteristic to get the total number of groups.

For example, if you were stratifying by location with three subgroups (urban, rural, or suburban) and marital status with five subgroups (single, divorced, widowed, married, or partnered), you would have 3 x 5 = 15 subgroups.

You should use stratified sampling when your sample can be divided into mutually exclusive and exhaustive subgroups that you believe will take on different mean values for the variable that you’re studying.

Using stratified sampling will allow you to obtain more precise (with lower variance ) statistical estimates of whatever you are trying to measure.

For example, say you want to investigate how income differs based on educational attainment, but you know that this relationship can vary based on race. Using stratified sampling, you can ensure you obtain a large enough sample from each racial group, allowing you to draw more precise conclusions.

In stratified sampling , researchers divide subjects into subgroups called strata based on characteristics that they share (e.g., race, gender, educational attainment).

Once divided, each subgroup is randomly sampled using another probability sampling method.

Cluster sampling is more time- and cost-efficient than other probability sampling methods , particularly when it comes to large samples spread across a wide geographical area.

However, it provides less statistical certainty than other methods, such as simple random sampling , because it is difficult to ensure that your clusters properly represent the population as a whole.

There are three types of cluster sampling : single-stage, double-stage and multi-stage clustering. In all three types, you first divide the population into clusters, then randomly select clusters for use in your sample.

  • In single-stage sampling , you collect data from every unit within the selected clusters.
  • In double-stage sampling , you select a random sample of units from within the clusters.
  • In multi-stage sampling , you repeat the procedure of randomly sampling elements from within the clusters until you have reached a manageable sample.

Cluster sampling is a probability sampling method in which you divide a population into clusters, such as districts or schools, and then randomly select some of these clusters as your sample.

The clusters should ideally each be mini-representations of the population as a whole.

If properly implemented, simple random sampling is usually the best sampling method for ensuring both internal and external validity . However, it can sometimes be impractical and expensive to implement, depending on the size of the population to be studied,

If you have a list of every member of the population and the ability to reach whichever members are selected, you can use simple random sampling.

The American Community Survey  is an example of simple random sampling . In order to collect detailed data on the population of the US, the Census Bureau officials randomly select 3.5 million households per year and use a variety of methods to convince them to fill out the survey.

Simple random sampling is a type of probability sampling in which the researcher randomly selects a subset of participants from a population . Each member of the population has an equal chance of being selected. Data is then collected from as large a percentage as possible of this random subset.

Quasi-experimental design is most useful in situations where it would be unethical or impractical to run a true experiment .

Quasi-experiments have lower internal validity than true experiments, but they often have higher external validity  as they can use real-world interventions instead of artificial laboratory settings.

A quasi-experiment is a type of research design that attempts to establish a cause-and-effect relationship. The main difference with a true experiment is that the groups are not randomly assigned.

Blinding is important to reduce research bias (e.g., observer bias , demand characteristics ) and ensure a study’s internal validity .

If participants know whether they are in a control or treatment group , they may adjust their behavior in ways that affect the outcome that researchers are trying to measure. If the people administering the treatment are aware of group assignment, they may treat participants differently and thus directly or indirectly influence the final results.

  • In a single-blind study , only the participants are blinded.
  • In a double-blind study , both participants and experimenters are blinded.
  • In a triple-blind study , the assignment is hidden not only from participants and experimenters, but also from the researchers analyzing the data.

Blinding means hiding who is assigned to the treatment group and who is assigned to the control group in an experiment .

A true experiment (a.k.a. a controlled experiment) always includes at least one control group that doesn’t receive the experimental treatment.

However, some experiments use a within-subjects design to test treatments without a control group. In these designs, you usually compare one group’s outcomes before and after a treatment (instead of comparing outcomes between different groups).

For strong internal validity , it’s usually best to include a control group if possible. Without a control group, it’s harder to be certain that the outcome was caused by the experimental treatment and not by other variables.

An experimental group, also known as a treatment group, receives the treatment whose effect researchers wish to study, whereas a control group does not. They should be identical in all other ways.

Individual Likert-type questions are generally considered ordinal data , because the items have clear rank order, but don’t have an even distribution.

Overall Likert scale scores are sometimes treated as interval data. These scores are considered to have directionality and even spacing between them.

The type of data determines what statistical tests you should use to analyze your data.

A Likert scale is a rating scale that quantitatively assesses opinions, attitudes, or behaviors. It is made up of 4 or more questions that measure a single attitude or trait when response scores are combined.

To use a Likert scale in a survey , you present participants with Likert-type questions or statements, and a continuum of items, usually with 5 or 7 possible responses, to capture their degree of agreement.

In scientific research, concepts are the abstract ideas or phenomena that are being studied (e.g., educational achievement). Variables are properties or characteristics of the concept (e.g., performance at school), while indicators are ways of measuring or quantifying variables (e.g., yearly grade reports).

The process of turning abstract concepts into measurable variables and indicators is called operationalization .

There are various approaches to qualitative data analysis , but they all share five steps in common:

  • Prepare and organize your data.
  • Review and explore your data.
  • Develop a data coding system.
  • Assign codes to the data.
  • Identify recurring themes.

The specifics of each step depend on the focus of the analysis. Some common approaches include textual analysis , thematic analysis , and discourse analysis .

There are five common approaches to qualitative research :

  • Grounded theory involves collecting data in order to develop new theories.
  • Ethnography involves immersing yourself in a group or organization to understand its culture.
  • Narrative research involves interpreting stories to understand how people make sense of their experiences and perceptions.
  • Phenomenological research involves investigating phenomena through people’s lived experiences.
  • Action research links theory and practice in several cycles to drive innovative changes.

Hypothesis testing is a formal procedure for investigating our ideas about the world using statistics. It is used by scientists to test specific predictions, called hypotheses , by calculating how likely it is that a pattern or relationship between variables could have arisen by chance.

Operationalization means turning abstract conceptual ideas into measurable observations.

For example, the concept of social anxiety isn’t directly observable, but it can be operationally defined in terms of self-rating scores, behavioral avoidance of crowded places, or physical anxiety symptoms in social situations.

Before collecting data , it’s important to consider how you will operationalize the variables that you want to measure.

When conducting research, collecting original data has significant advantages:

  • You can tailor data collection to your specific research aims (e.g. understanding the needs of your consumers or user testing your website)
  • You can control and standardize the process for high reliability and validity (e.g. choosing appropriate measurements and sampling methods )

However, there are also some drawbacks: data collection can be time-consuming, labor-intensive and expensive. In some cases, it’s more efficient to use secondary data that has already been collected by someone else, but the data might be less reliable.

Data collection is the systematic process by which observations or measurements are gathered in research. It is used in many different contexts by academics, governments, businesses, and other organizations.

There are several methods you can use to decrease the impact of confounding variables on your research: restriction, matching, statistical control and randomization.

In restriction , you restrict your sample by only including certain subjects that have the same values of potential confounding variables.

In matching , you match each of the subjects in your treatment group with a counterpart in the comparison group. The matched subjects have the same values on any potential confounding variables, and only differ in the independent variable .

In statistical control , you include potential confounders as variables in your regression .

In randomization , you randomly assign the treatment (or independent variable) in your study to a sufficiently large number of subjects, which allows you to control for all potential confounding variables.

A confounding variable is closely related to both the independent and dependent variables in a study. An independent variable represents the supposed cause , while the dependent variable is the supposed effect . A confounding variable is a third variable that influences both the independent and dependent variables.

Failing to account for confounding variables can cause you to wrongly estimate the relationship between your independent and dependent variables.

To ensure the internal validity of your research, you must consider the impact of confounding variables. If you fail to account for them, you might over- or underestimate the causal relationship between your independent and dependent variables , or even find a causal relationship where none exists.

Yes, but including more than one of either type requires multiple research questions .

For example, if you are interested in the effect of a diet on health, you can use multiple measures of health: blood sugar, blood pressure, weight, pulse, and many more. Each of these is its own dependent variable with its own research question.

You could also choose to look at the effect of exercise levels as well as diet, or even the additional effect of the two combined. Each of these is a separate independent variable .

To ensure the internal validity of an experiment , you should only change one independent variable at a time.

No. The value of a dependent variable depends on an independent variable, so a variable cannot be both independent and dependent at the same time. It must be either the cause or the effect, not both!

You want to find out how blood sugar levels are affected by drinking diet soda and regular soda, so you conduct an experiment .

  • The type of soda – diet or regular – is the independent variable .
  • The level of blood sugar that you measure is the dependent variable – it changes depending on the type of soda.

Determining cause and effect is one of the most important parts of scientific research. It’s essential to know which is the cause – the independent variable – and which is the effect – the dependent variable.

In non-probability sampling , the sample is selected based on non-random criteria, and not every member of the population has a chance of being included.

Common non-probability sampling methods include convenience sampling , voluntary response sampling, purposive sampling , snowball sampling, and quota sampling .

Probability sampling means that every member of the target population has a known chance of being included in the sample.

Probability sampling methods include simple random sampling , systematic sampling , stratified sampling , and cluster sampling .

Using careful research design and sampling procedures can help you avoid sampling bias . Oversampling can be used to correct undercoverage bias .

Some common types of sampling bias include self-selection bias , nonresponse bias , undercoverage bias , survivorship bias , pre-screening or advertising bias, and healthy user bias.

Sampling bias is a threat to external validity – it limits the generalizability of your findings to a broader group of people.

A sampling error is the difference between a population parameter and a sample statistic .

A statistic refers to measures about the sample , while a parameter refers to measures about the population .

Populations are used when a research question requires data from every member of the population. This is usually only feasible when the population is small and easily accessible.

Samples are used to make inferences about populations . Samples are easier to collect data from because they are practical, cost-effective, convenient, and manageable.

There are seven threats to external validity : selection bias , history, experimenter effect, Hawthorne effect , testing effect, aptitude-treatment and situation effect.

The two types of external validity are population validity (whether you can generalize to other groups of people) and ecological validity (whether you can generalize to other situations and settings).

The external validity of a study is the extent to which you can generalize your findings to different groups of people, situations, and measures.

Cross-sectional studies cannot establish a cause-and-effect relationship or analyze behavior over a period of time. To investigate cause and effect, you need to do a longitudinal study or an experimental study .

Cross-sectional studies are less expensive and time-consuming than many other types of study. They can provide useful insights into a population’s characteristics and identify correlations for further research.

Sometimes only cross-sectional data is available for analysis; other times your research question may only require a cross-sectional study to answer it.

Longitudinal studies can last anywhere from weeks to decades, although they tend to be at least a year long.

The 1970 British Cohort Study , which has collected data on the lives of 17,000 Brits since their births in 1970, is one well-known example of a longitudinal study .

Longitudinal studies are better to establish the correct sequence of events, identify changes over time, and provide insight into cause-and-effect relationships, but they also tend to be more expensive and time-consuming than other types of studies.

Longitudinal studies and cross-sectional studies are two different types of research design . In a cross-sectional study you collect data from a population at a specific point in time; in a longitudinal study you repeatedly collect data from the same sample over an extended period of time.

Longitudinal study Cross-sectional study
observations Observations at a in time
Observes the multiple times Observes (a “cross-section”) in the population
Follows in participants over time Provides of society at a given point

There are eight threats to internal validity : history, maturation, instrumentation, testing, selection bias , regression to the mean, social interaction and attrition .

Internal validity is the extent to which you can be confident that a cause-and-effect relationship established in a study cannot be explained by other factors.

In mixed methods research , you use both qualitative and quantitative data collection and analysis methods to answer your research question .

The research methods you use depend on the type of data you need to answer your research question .

  • If you want to measure something or test a hypothesis , use quantitative methods . If you want to explore ideas, thoughts and meanings, use qualitative methods .
  • If you want to analyze a large amount of readily-available data, use secondary data. If you want data specific to your purposes with control over how it is generated, collect primary data.
  • If you want to establish cause-and-effect relationships between variables , use experimental methods. If you want to understand the characteristics of a research subject, use descriptive methods.

A confounding variable , also called a confounder or confounding factor, is a third variable in a study examining a potential cause-and-effect relationship.

A confounding variable is related to both the supposed cause and the supposed effect of the study. It can be difficult to separate the true effect of the independent variable from the effect of the confounding variable.

In your research design , it’s important to identify potential confounding variables and plan how you will reduce their impact.

Discrete and continuous variables are two types of quantitative variables :

  • Discrete variables represent counts (e.g. the number of objects in a collection).
  • Continuous variables represent measurable amounts (e.g. water volume or weight).

Quantitative variables are any variables where the data represent amounts (e.g. height, weight, or age).

Categorical variables are any variables where the data represent groups. This includes rankings (e.g. finishing places in a race), classifications (e.g. brands of cereal), and binary outcomes (e.g. coin flips).

You need to know what type of variables you are working with to choose the right statistical test for your data and interpret your results .

You can think of independent and dependent variables in terms of cause and effect: an independent variable is the variable you think is the cause , while a dependent variable is the effect .

In an experiment, you manipulate the independent variable and measure the outcome in the dependent variable. For example, in an experiment about the effect of nutrients on crop growth:

  • The  independent variable  is the amount of nutrients added to the crop field.
  • The  dependent variable is the biomass of the crops at harvest time.

Defining your variables, and deciding how you will manipulate and measure them, is an important part of experimental design .

Experimental design means planning a set of procedures to investigate a relationship between variables . To design a controlled experiment, you need:

  • A testable hypothesis
  • At least one independent variable that can be precisely manipulated
  • At least one dependent variable that can be precisely measured

When designing the experiment, you decide:

  • How you will manipulate the variable(s)
  • How you will control for any potential confounding variables
  • How many subjects or samples will be included in the study
  • How subjects will be assigned to treatment levels

Experimental design is essential to the internal and external validity of your experiment.

I nternal validity is the degree of confidence that the causal relationship you are testing is not influenced by other factors or variables .

External validity is the extent to which your results can be generalized to other contexts.

The validity of your experiment depends on your experimental design .

Reliability and validity are both about how well a method measures something:

  • Reliability refers to the  consistency of a measure (whether the results can be reproduced under the same conditions).
  • Validity   refers to the  accuracy of a measure (whether the results really do represent what they are supposed to measure).

If you are doing experimental research, you also have to consider the internal and external validity of your experiment.

A sample is a subset of individuals from a larger population . Sampling means selecting the group that you will actually collect data from in your research. For example, if you are researching the opinions of students in your university, you could survey a sample of 100 students.

In statistics, sampling allows you to test a hypothesis about the characteristics of a population.

Quantitative research deals with numbers and statistics, while qualitative research deals with words and meanings.

Quantitative methods allow you to systematically measure variables and test hypotheses . Qualitative methods allow you to explore concepts and experiences in more detail.

Methodology refers to the overarching strategy and rationale of your research project . It involves studying the methods used in your field and the theories or principles behind them, in order to develop an approach that matches your objectives.

Methods are the specific tools and procedures you use to collect and analyze data (for example, experiments, surveys , and statistical tests ).

In shorter scientific papers, where the aim is to report the findings of a specific study, you might simply describe what you did in a methods section .

In a longer or more complex research project, such as a thesis or dissertation , you will probably include a methodology section , where you explain your approach to answering the research questions and cite relevant sources to support your choice of methods.

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The Random Selection Experiment Method

Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book."

what is random assignment and why is it used

Emily is a board-certified science editor who has worked with top digital publishing brands like Voices for Biodiversity, Study.com, GoodTherapy, Vox, and Verywell.

what is random assignment and why is it used

When researchers need to select a representative sample from a larger population, they often utilize a method known as random selection. In this selection process, each member of a group stands an equal chance of being chosen as a participant in the study.

Random Selection vs. Random Assignment

How does random selection differ from  random assignment ? Random selection refers to how the sample is drawn from the population as a whole, whereas random assignment refers to how the participants are then assigned to either the experimental or control groups.

It is possible to have both random selection and random assignment in an experiment.

Imagine that you use random selection to draw 500 people from a population to participate in your study. You then use random assignment to assign 250 of your participants to a control group (the group that does not receive the treatment or independent variable) and you assign 250 of the participants to the experimental group (the group that receives the treatment or independent variable).

Why do researchers utilize random selection? The purpose is to increase the generalizability of the results.

By drawing a random sample from a larger population, the goal is that the sample will be representative of the larger group and less likely to be subject to bias.

Factors Involved

Imagine a researcher is selecting people to participate in a study. To pick participants, they may choose people using a technique that is the statistical equivalent of a coin toss.

They may begin by using random selection to pick geographic regions from which to draw participants. They may then use the same selection process to pick cities, neighborhoods, households, age ranges, and individual participants.

Another important thing to remember is that larger sample sizes tend to be more representative. Even random selection can lead to a biased or limited sample if the sample size is small.

When the sample size is small, an unusual participant can have an undue influence over the sample as a whole. Using a larger sample size tends to dilute the effects of unusual participants and prevent them from skewing the results.

Lin L.  Bias caused by sampling error in meta-analysis with small sample sizes .  PLoS ONE . 2018;13(9):e0204056. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0204056

Elmes DG, Kantowitz BH, Roediger HL.  Research Methods in Psychology. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth; 2012.

By Kendra Cherry, MSEd Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book."

Random Sampling vs. Random Assignment

Random sampling and random assignment are fundamental concepts in the realm of research methods and statistics. However, many students struggle to differentiate between these two concepts, and very often use these terms interchangeably. Here we will explain the distinction between random sampling and random assignment.

Random sampling refers to the method you use to select individuals from the population to participate in your study. In other words, random sampling means that you are randomly selecting individuals from the population to participate in your study. This type of sampling is typically done to help ensure the representativeness of the sample (i.e., external validity). It is worth noting that a sample is only truly random if all individuals in the population have an equal probability of being selected to participate in the study. In practice, very few research studies use “true” random sampling because it is usually not feasible to ensure that all individuals in the population have an equal chance of being selected. For this reason, it is especially important to avoid using the term “random sample” if your study uses a nonprobability sampling method (such as convenience sampling).

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Random assignment refers to the method you use to place participants into groups in an experimental study. For example, say you are conducting a study comparing the blood pressure of patients after taking aspirin or a placebo. You have two groups of patients to compare: patients who will take aspirin (the experimental group) and patients who will take the placebo (the control group). Ideally, you would want to randomly assign the participants to be in the experimental group or the control group, meaning that each participant has an equal probability of being placed in the experimental or control group. This helps ensure that there are no systematic differences between the groups before the treatment (e.g., the aspirin or placebo) is given to the participants. Random assignment is a fundamental part of a “true” experiment because it helps ensure that any differences found between the groups are attributable to the treatment, rather than a confounding variable.

So, to summarize, random sampling refers to how you select individuals from the population to participate in your study. Random assignment refers to how you place those participants into groups (such as experimental vs. control). Knowing this distinction will help you clearly and accurately describe the methods you use to collect your data and conduct your study.

Explore Psychology

What Is Random Selection?

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Random selection refers to a process that researchers use to pick participants for a study. When using this method, every single member of a population has an equal chance of being chosen as a subject.

This process is an important research tool used in psychology research, allowing scientists to create representative samples from which conclusions can be drawn and applied to the larger population.

Table of Contents

Examples of Random Selection

Random selection is a crucial technique in psychology research to ensure that samples are representative of the population, thus enhancing the generalizability of the findings. Here are a few brief examples of how random selection can be used in different areas of psychology research:

Survey Research on Mental Health

A researcher wants to study the prevalence of anxiety disorders among adults in a city. They use random selection to choose a sample of adults from the city’s population registry. This ensures that every adult in the city has an equal chance of being selected, making the sample representative of the entire adult population.

Experimental Research on Cognitive Processes:

To investigate the effects of sleep deprivation on memory, a researcher randomly selects participants from a university’s student population. By randomly assigning these students to either a sleep-deprived group or a control group, the researcher ensures that any differences in memory performance are likely due to the manipulation of sleep rather than pre-existing differences between groups.

Developmental Psychology Studies

A study aims to understand the development of language skills in toddlers. The researcher randomly selects toddlers from several daycare centers in a region. This random selection helps ensure that the sample includes children from diverse backgrounds, leading to more generalizable findings about language development.

Clinical Trials for Psychological Interventions

In testing a new therapeutic intervention for depression, a researcher randomly selects participants from a pool of individuals diagnosed with depression. Participants are then randomly assigned to either the intervention group or a control group (e.g., receiving standard care). This random selection and assignment help control for potential confounding variables and biases.

Social Psychology Research

To study the impact of group dynamics on decision-making, a researcher randomly selects employees from different departments of a large corporation. By using random selection, the researcher can ensure that the sample is not biased towards any particular department, making the findings more applicable across the entire corporation.

These examples illustrate how random selection helps create representative samples and enhances the internal and external validity of psychological research.

Random Selection vs. Random Assignment

It is important to note that random selection is not the same as random assignment . While random selection involves how participants are chosen for a study, random assignment involves how those chosen are then assigned to different groups in the experiment.

Many studies and experiments actually use both random selection and random assignment.

For example, random selection might be used to draw 100 students to participate in a study. Each of these 100 participants would then be randomly assigned to either the control group or the experimental group.

Reasons to Use Random Selection

What is the reason that researchers choose to use random selection when conducting research?

Some key reasons include:

Increased Generalizability

Random selection is one way to help improve the generalizability of the results. A sample is drawn from a larger population. Researchers want to be sure that the sample they use in their study accurately reflects the characteristics of the larger group.

The more representative the sample is, the better able the researchers can generalize the results of their experiment to a larger population.

By randomly selecting participants for a study, researchers can also help minimize the possibility of bias influencing the results.

Reduced Outlier Effects

Random selection helps ensure that anomalies will not skew results. By randomly selecting participants for a study, researchers are less likely to draw on subjects that may share unusual characteristics in common.

For example, suppose researchers were interested in learning how many people in the general population are left-handed. In that case, the results might be skewed if subjects were inadvertently drawn from a group that included an unusually high number of left-handed individuals.

Random selection ensures that the group better represents what exists in the real world.

Hilbert, S. (2017). Random selection . In: Zeigler-Hill, V., Shackelford, T. (eds) Encyclopedia of Personality and Individual Differences . Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-28099-8_1344-1

Martínez-Mesa, J., González-Chica, D. A., Duquia, R. P., Bonamigo, R. R., & Bastos, J. L. (2016). Sampling: how to select participants in my research study ?  Anais brasileiros de dermatologia ,  91 (3), 326–330. https://doi.org/10.1590/abd1806-4841.20165254

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The evidence base, rerandomization: what is it and why should you use it for random assignment.

what is random assignment and why is it used

Randomization in social and clinical experiments is generally accepted as the “gold standard” for causal conclusions, because it balances baseline covariates across treatment groups on average, yielding unbiased causal effects. However, although randomization balances baseline covariates on average , it is possible that covariates could still be imbalanced just by random chance, compromising the validity of results. Although chance imbalance is often thought of as a rare, unlucky occurrence, it actually is quite common.  For example, with only 10 independent covariates, there is a 40 percent chance that at least one will be significantly (using α = 0.05) different at baseline, just by random chance! Why subject your RCT to this kind of risk? If baseline covariates are thought to matter, balance should be checked at the time of randomization, before the experiment is conducted, and allocations yielding unacceptable balance should be eliminated.

Rerandomization ( Morgan and Rubin, 2012 ) provides a way to avoid this chance imbalance for baseline covariates available at the time of randomization. Rerandomization works by checking balance at the time of randomization and rerandomizing if balance is unacceptable according to pre-specified criteria for acceptable balance. This process continues until an allocation with acceptable balance is achieved, and only then is treatment actually administered. When the criteria for acceptable balance is objective and specified in advance, and when treatment groups are equally sized, rerandomization maintains overall unbiasedness while also guarding against conditional bias due to chance imbalance.  Thus we preserve the “gold standard” benefits of randomization, while avoiding detrimental chance imbalances; an idea Tukey (1993) called the “platinum standard.”

what is random assignment and why is it used

Although the original motivation was to guard against confounding, by improving covariate balance, rerandomization also improves precision when outcomes are correlated with the covariates being balanced. However, to take advantage of these gains in precision, analysis must reflect the rerandomization procedure, for example by randomization-based inference. Not accounting for rerandomization in analysis will still result in “valid” results in the sense that significant p-values can be trusted, the Type I error rate will no larger than as stated, and confidence intervals will have at least the nominal coverage. However, results will be conservative, meaning that p-values could be smaller and intervals could be narrower if the rerandomization were taken into account.

We are currently working on the evaluation of an educational intervention that used rerandomization to assign teachers across five large, urban school districts to treatment or control. Although data collection took place in 2016-17, the treatment started with a four-day “Summer Institute” and so treatment assignment had to take place before we had the 2016-2017 students’ baseline data; the enrolled teachers’ 2015-2016 students’ baseline data was the only alternative. The rerandomization criteria enforced balance on two covariates: a composite measure of standardized test scores and a composite measure of socio-economic status. We conducted randomization independently within each district, and the rerandomization criteria—both the variables used for the composite measures and the exact criteria for acceptable balance—differed slightly from district to district.

In Figure 2, we show, for one of the five districts, the resulting improvement in balance using rerandomization rather than pure randomization (ignoring the covariates). Zero represents perfect mean balance (equal means in treatment and control groups), and the rerandomization yields a distribution with covariate difference in means more closely concentrated around zero, with no extreme differences.  The balance for the actual experiment is depicted with a black dot, and is very good for both covariates, as enforced by rerandomization.

what is random assignment and why is it used

Although we do not have outcome data yet, the amount to which rerandomization will decrease the variance of the outcome difference in means (tightening the distribution around the truth) depends both on the amount of improvement in covariate balance (as shown in Figure 2) and on the extent to which the outcome is correlated with the covariates, as measured by R 2 .  Given this level of covariate balance, the resulting precision of the outcome difference in means would increase by a factor of 2 if R 2 = 0.53 or 3 if R 2 = 0.68, equating to roughly doubling or tripling the sample size! This example illustrates the benefits of rerandomization for an educational intervention, but rerandomization can improve baseline balance and outcome precision for any field or study utilizing randomization.

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  • Random Assignment in Experiments | Introduction & Examples

Random Assignment in Experiments | Introduction & Examples

Published on 6 May 2022 by Pritha Bhandari . Revised on 13 February 2023.

In experimental research, random assignment is a way of placing participants from your sample into different treatment groups using randomisation.

With simple random assignment, every member of the sample has a known or equal chance of being placed in a control group or an experimental group. Studies that use simple random assignment are also called completely randomised designs .

Random assignment is a key part of experimental design . It helps you ensure that all groups are comparable at the start of a study: any differences between them are due to random factors.

Table of contents

Why does random assignment matter, random sampling vs random assignment, how do you use random assignment, when is random assignment not used, frequently asked questions about random assignment.

Random assignment is an important part of control in experimental research, because it helps strengthen the internal validity of an experiment.

In experiments, researchers manipulate an independent variable to assess its effect on a dependent variable, while controlling for other variables. To do so, they often use different levels of an independent variable for different groups of participants.

This is called a between-groups or independent measures design.

You use three groups of participants that are each given a different level of the independent variable:

  • A control group that’s given a placebo (no dosage)
  • An experimental group that’s given a low dosage
  • A second experimental group that’s given a high dosage

Random assignment to helps you make sure that the treatment groups don’t differ in systematic or biased ways at the start of the experiment.

If you don’t use random assignment, you may not be able to rule out alternative explanations for your results.

  • Participants recruited from pubs are placed in the control group
  • Participants recruited from local community centres are placed in the low-dosage experimental group
  • Participants recruited from gyms are placed in the high-dosage group

With this type of assignment, it’s hard to tell whether the participant characteristics are the same across all groups at the start of the study. Gym users may tend to engage in more healthy behaviours than people who frequent pubs or community centres, and this would introduce a healthy user bias in your study.

Although random assignment helps even out baseline differences between groups, it doesn’t always make them completely equivalent. There may still be extraneous variables that differ between groups, and there will always be some group differences that arise from chance.

Most of the time, the random variation between groups is low, and, therefore, it’s acceptable for further analysis. This is especially true when you have a large sample. In general, you should always use random assignment in experiments when it is ethically possible and makes sense for your study topic.

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Random sampling and random assignment are both important concepts in research, but it’s important to understand the difference between them.

Random sampling (also called probability sampling or random selection) is a way of selecting members of a population to be included in your study. In contrast, random assignment is a way of sorting the sample participants into control and experimental groups.

While random sampling is used in many types of studies, random assignment is only used in between-subjects experimental designs.

Some studies use both random sampling and random assignment, while others use only one or the other.

Random sample vs random assignment

Random sampling enhances the external validity or generalisability of your results, because it helps to ensure that your sample is unbiased and representative of the whole population. This allows you to make stronger statistical inferences .

You use a simple random sample to collect data. Because you have access to the whole population (all employees), you can assign all 8,000 employees a number and use a random number generator to select 300 employees. These 300 employees are your full sample.

Random assignment enhances the internal validity of the study, because it ensures that there are no systematic differences between the participants in each group. This helps you conclude that the outcomes can be attributed to the independent variable .

  • A control group that receives no intervention
  • An experimental group that has a remote team-building intervention every week for a month

You use random assignment to place participants into the control or experimental group. To do so, you take your list of participants and assign each participant a number. Again, you use a random number generator to place each participant in one of the two groups.

To use simple random assignment, you start by giving every member of the sample a unique number. Then, you can use computer programs or manual methods to randomly assign each participant to a group.

  • Random number generator: Use a computer program to generate random numbers from the list for each group.
  • Lottery method: Place all numbers individually into a hat or a bucket, and draw numbers at random for each group.
  • Flip a coin: When you only have two groups, for each number on the list, flip a coin to decide if they’ll be in the control or the experimental group.
  • Use a dice: When you have three groups, for each number on the list, roll a die to decide which of the groups they will be in. For example, assume that rolling 1 or 2 lands them in a control group; 3 or 4 in an experimental group; and 5 or 6 in a second control or experimental group.

This type of random assignment is the most powerful method of placing participants in conditions, because each individual has an equal chance of being placed in any one of your treatment groups.

Random assignment in block designs

In more complicated experimental designs, random assignment is only used after participants are grouped into blocks based on some characteristic (e.g., test score or demographic variable). These groupings mean that you need a larger sample to achieve high statistical power .

For example, a randomised block design involves placing participants into blocks based on a shared characteristic (e.g., college students vs graduates), and then using random assignment within each block to assign participants to every treatment condition. This helps you assess whether the characteristic affects the outcomes of your treatment.

In an experimental matched design , you use blocking and then match up individual participants from each block based on specific characteristics. Within each matched pair or group, you randomly assign each participant to one of the conditions in the experiment and compare their outcomes.

Sometimes, it’s not relevant or ethical to use simple random assignment, so groups are assigned in a different way.

When comparing different groups

Sometimes, differences between participants are the main focus of a study, for example, when comparing children and adults or people with and without health conditions. Participants are not randomly assigned to different groups, but instead assigned based on their characteristics.

In this type of study, the characteristic of interest (e.g., gender) is an independent variable, and the groups differ based on the different levels (e.g., men, women). All participants are tested the same way, and then their group-level outcomes are compared.

When it’s not ethically permissible

When studying unhealthy or dangerous behaviours, it’s not possible to use random assignment. For example, if you’re studying heavy drinkers and social drinkers, it’s unethical to randomly assign participants to one of the two groups and ask them to drink large amounts of alcohol for your experiment.

When you can’t assign participants to groups, you can also conduct a quasi-experimental study . In a quasi-experiment, you study the outcomes of pre-existing groups who receive treatments that you may not have any control over (e.g., heavy drinkers and social drinkers).

These groups aren’t randomly assigned, but may be considered comparable when some other variables (e.g., age or socioeconomic status) are controlled for.

In experimental research, random assignment is a way of placing participants from your sample into different groups using randomisation. With this method, every member of the sample has a known or equal chance of being placed in a control group or an experimental group.

Random selection, or random sampling , is a way of selecting members of a population for your study’s sample.

In contrast, random assignment is a way of sorting the sample into control and experimental groups.

Random sampling enhances the external validity or generalisability of your results, while random assignment improves the internal validity of your study.

Random assignment is used in experiments with a between-groups or independent measures design. In this research design, there’s usually a control group and one or more experimental groups. Random assignment helps ensure that the groups are comparable.

In general, you should always use random assignment in this type of experimental design when it is ethically possible and makes sense for your study topic.

To implement random assignment , assign a unique number to every member of your study’s sample .

Then, you can use a random number generator or a lottery method to randomly assign each number to a control or experimental group. You can also do so manually, by flipping a coin or rolling a die to randomly assign participants to groups.

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Car dealerships across North America continue to wrestle with major disruptions that started last week with cyberattacks on a software company used widely in the auto retail sales sector (AP video: Mike Householder)

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NEW YORK (AP) — Car dealerships in North America are still wrestling with major disruptions that started last week with cyberattacks on a company whose software is used widely in the auto retail sales sector.

CDK Global, a company that provides software for thousands of auto dealers in the U.S. and Canada, was hit by back-to-back cyberattacks Wednesday. That led to an outage that has continued to impact operations.

For prospective car buyers, that’s meant delays at dealerships or vehicle orders written up by hand. There’s no immediate end in sight, but CDK says it expects the restoration process to take “several days” to complete.

On Monday, Group 1 Automotive Inc., a $4 billion automotive retailer, said it is using “alternative processes” to sell cars to its customers. Lithia Motors and AutoNation, two other dealership chains, also disclosed that they implemented workarounds to keep their operations going.

Here is what you need to know.

What is CDK Global?

CDK Global is a major player in the auto sales industry. The company, based just outside of Chicago in Hoffman Estates, Illinois, provides software technology to dealers that helps with day-to-day operations — like facilitating vehicle sales, financing, insurance and repairs.

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CDK serves more than 15,000 retail locations across North America, according to the company.

What happened last week?

CDK experienced back-to-back cyberattacks on Wednesday. The company shut down all of its systems after the first attack out of an abundance of caution, according to spokesperson Lisa Finney, and then shut down most systems again following the second.

“We have begun the restoration process,” Finney said in an update over the weekend — noting that the company had launched an investigation into the “cyber incident” with third-party experts and notified law enforcement.

“Based on the information we have at this time, we anticipate that the process will take several days to complete, and in the interim we are continuing to actively engage with our customers and provide them with alternate ways to conduct business,” she added.

In messages to its customers, the company has also warned of “bad actors” posing as members or affiliates of CDK to try to obtain system access by contacting customers. It urged them to be cautious of any attempted phishing.

The incident bore all the hallmarks of a ransomware attack, in which targets are asked to pay a ransom to access encrypted files. But CDK declined to comment directly — neither confirming or denying if it had received a ransom demand.

“When you see an attack of this kind, it almost always ends up being a ransomware attack,” Cliff Steinhauer, director of information security and engagement at the National Cybersecurity Alliance. “We see it time and time again unfortunately, (particularly in) the last couple of years. No industry and no organization or software company is immune.”

Are impacted dealerships still selling cars?

Several major auto companies — including Stellantis, Ford and BMW — confirmed to The Associated Press last week that the CDK outage had impacted some of their dealers, but that sales operations continue.

In light of the ongoing situation, a spokesperson for Stellantis said Friday that many dealerships had switched to manual processes to serve customers. That includes writing up orders by hand.

A Ford spokesperson added that the outage may cause “some delays and inconveniences at some dealers and for some customers.” However, many Ford and Lincoln customers are still getting sales and service support through alternative routes being used at dealerships.

“The people who’ve been around longer — you know, guys who have maybe a little salt in their hair like me — we remember how to do it before the computers,” said John Crane of Hawk Auto Group, a Westmont, Illinois-based dealership operator that uses CDK. “It’s just a few more steps and a little bit more time.”

Although impacted Hawk Auto dealerships are still able to serve customers by “going back to the basics,” Crane added that those working in administration are still “pulling out our hair.” He notes that there are now stacks of paper awaiting processing — in place of orders that went through automatically on a computer overnight.

Group 1 Automotive Inc. said Monday that the incident has disrupted its business applications and processes in its U.S. operations that rely on CDK’s dealers’ systems. The company said that it took measures to protect and isolate its systems from CDK’s platform.

In regulatory filings, Lithia Motors and AutoNation disclosed that last week’s incident at CDK had disrupted their operations as well.

Lithia said it activated cyber incident response procedures, which included “severing business service connections between the company’s systems and CDK’s.” AutoNation said it also took steps to protect its systems and data, adding that all of its locations remain open “albeit with lower productivity,” as many are served manually or through alternative processes.

HOW CAN I PROTECT MYSELF?

With many details of the cyberattacks still unclear, customer privacy is also at top of mind — especially with little known about what information may have been compromised this week.

If you’ve bought a car from a dealership that’s used CDK software, cybersecurity security experts stress that it’s important to assume your data may have been breached. That could potentially include “pretty sensitive information,” Steinhauer noted, like your social security number, employment history, income and current or former addresses.

Those impacted should monitor their credit — or even freeze their credit as an added layer of defense — and consider signing up for identify theft monitor insurance. You’ll also want to be wary of any phishing attempts. It’s best to make sure you have reliable contact information for a company by visiting their official website, for example, as scammers sometimes try to take advantage of news about data breaches to gain your trust through look-alike emails or phone calls.

Those are some best practices to keep in mind whether you’re a victim of CDK’s data breach or not, Steinhauer said. “Unfortunately, in this day and age, our data is a valuable target — and you have to make sure that you’re taking steps to protect it,” he said.

Associated Press writer Mike Householder in Detroit contributed to this report.

what is random assignment and why is it used

Watch CBS News

Trump and Biden's first presidential debate of 2024, fact checked

By Arden Farhi , Hunter Woodall , Jui Sarwate , Julia Ingram , Layla Ferris , Laura Doan , James LaPorta , Daniel Klaidman , Alexander Tin , Pete Villasmil, Sierra Sanders

Updated on: June 28, 2024 / 9:46 AM EDT / CBS News

Here's the fact check of some of the statements made by President Biden and former President Donald Trump during the first 2024 presidential debate , which took place in Atlanta on Thursday, June 27. The two tangled on topics including immigration, the economy, abortion and their respective records. Mr. Biden seemed to ramble during many of his responses.

CBS News  covered the debate live as it happened . 

Trump claims "we had the greatest economy in the history of our country": False

Trump : "We had the greatest economy in the history of our country. And we have never done so well. Every- everybody was amazed by it. Other countries were copying us." 

Details : Trump's claim is false that during his presidency the U.S. had the greatest economy in the history of the country by many of the common metrics used to judge economic performance. The claim struggles when looking at GDP. If the 2020 pandemic  is excluded, growth after inflation under Trump averaged 2.49%, according to figures from the  World Bank . This is far from the GDP growth under Democratic President Bill Clinton of 3.88%, according to  World Bank data . Including the time period after COVID spread, that average drops to 1.18%. 

Trump's claim also falls short when compared to historical figures. Growth between 1962 to 1966 ranged from 4.4% to 6.6%. In 1950 and 1951, GDP ranged between 8.7% and 8%.

Under Mr. Biden, annual GDP growth is averaging 3.4%, according to the  Associated Press .

*An earlier version of this fact check misstated World Bank figures for growth after inflation under Trump at 2.65%, rather than 2.49%, and 1.45%, instead of 1.18%, and also rounded the growth number for Clinton. This has been updated.

Unemployment

Trump's claim is also false even when evaluating the unemployment rate.    In February 2020, a month before the COVID pandemic affected the economy, the unemployment rate stood at 3.5% — which was the lowest since December 1969 — but not the lowest ever. When Trump's term ended, the unemployment rate was 6.3%.

In 1953, the unemployment rate fell as low as 2.5%. Under Mr. Biden, the unemployment rate is 4%, according to the  most recent data  from May 2024. 

In January 2023 and again in April 2023, the unemployment rate was 3.4%, lower than the best month during Trump's term.

Stock market performance

On Jan. 19, 2021, the  S&P 500-stock average  closed at 67.8% above where it had been the day before Trump was inaugurated in 2017. 

According to  Investopedia ,  at the end of President Barack Obama's first term in office, the S&P closed 84.5% higher. Additionally the S&P gained 79% during President Bill Clinton's first term, and 70% during President Dwight Eisenhower's first term. So far, under President Biden, the  S&P 500 has increased almost 40% , according to calculations on June 13. 

By Laura Doan and Hunter Woodall 

Biden claims he's the only president this century that doesn't have troops dying anywhere in the world: False

Biden: "I'm the only president this century that doesn't have any — this decade — that doesn't have any troops dying anywhere in the world." 

Details : At least 16 U.S. service members have died while serving overseas during Mr. Biden's presidency. Thirteen U.S. service members  died  in an attack at the Kabul airport in Afghanistan in August 2021. Three soldiers were  killed  in an attack in Jordan in January of this year.

By Layla Ferris

Trump claims he did not refer to U.S. soldiers who were killed as "suckers and losers": False

Trump: "First of all, that was a made-up quote. 'Suckers and losers,' they made it up."

Details : Current and former U.S. military service members have detailed to CBS News multiple instances when Trump made disparaging remarks about members of the U.S. military who were captured or killed, including referring to the American war dead at the Aisle-Marne American Cemetery in France in 2018 as "losers" and "suckers."  

A senior Defense Department official and a former U.S. Marine Corps officer with direct knowledge of what was said detailed how Trump said he did not want to visit the cemetery because it was "filled with losers." These accounts were backed independently by two other officials — a former senior U.S. Army officer and a separate, former senior U.S. Marine Corps officer.   

In another conversation on the trip, Trump referred to the 1,800 Marines who died in the World War I battle of Belleau Wood as "suckers" for getting killed.  The Atlantic was first to report Trump's comments in 2020. His former chief of staff John Kelly later confirmed to CNN the essence of what Trump had said.

By James LaPorta and Sierra Sanders 

Biden claims 40% fewer people are crossing border illegally, better than when Trump was in office: Partially true         

Biden: "I've changed it in a way that now you're in a situation where there 40% fewer people coming across the border illegally; it's better than when he left office."

Details : Since Mr. Biden issued a  proclamation  banning most migrants from asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border in early June, illegal crossings there have dropped. In the past week, daily illegal border crossings have averaged roughly 2,000, according to internal Department of Homeland Security data obtained by CBS News. That's a 47% drop from the 3,800  daily average  in May.

During the height of a spike in migration faced by the Trump administration in 2019, Border Patrol recorded an average of 4,300 daily illegal crossings,  government data  show. But there were months during the  Covid-19 pandemic  when the Trump administration averaged fewer than 2,000 illegal border crossings.

By Camilo Montoya-Galvez

Trump claims migrants coming to U.S. and "killing our citizens at a level...we've never seen before": Misleading

Trump: "People are coming in and killing our citizens at a level like we've never seen before." 

Details :  Some migrants who are believed to have entered the U.S. along the southern border in recent years have been charged with murder and other heinous crimes in different parts of the country. They include the suspect in the high-profile murder of Georgia nursing student Laken Riley .

But while the data on this question is not comprehensive, available  studies  have found that migrants living in the country illegally do not commit crimes at a higher rate than native-born Americans. 

Government  statistics  also show a very small fraction of migrants processed by Border Patrol have criminal records in the U.S. or other countries that share information with American officials.

On COVID, Trump claims more people died under Biden administration than his: True, but needs context  

Trump: "Remember, more people died under his administration — even though we had largely fixed it — more people died under his administration than our administration, and we were right in the middle of it, something which a lot of people don't like to talk about. But [Biden] had far more people dying in his administration."

Details : More than 460,000 people had died from COVID-19 by the end of the week that Biden was inaugurated in 2021, while more than 725,000 have died in the three years since then, according to data from the  CDC . However, research has found that the counts of COVID-19 deaths, especially in the early days of the pandemic, were likely  undercounted .

By Julia Ingram and Jui Sarwate

In discussing abortion, Trump claims former Virginia governor, a Democrat, supported killing babies: False

Trump: "If you look at the former governor of Virginia, he was willing to do this — he said  'we'll put the baby aside and we'll determine what we'll do with the baby'.. .meaning we'll kill the baby."

Details : In a 2019 radio interview then-governor of Virginia Ralph Northam, in discussing late-term abortions,  addressed a hypothetical scenario in which a fetus was severely deformed or wasn't otherwise viable. He said, "the infant would be delivered, the infant would be kept comfortable, the infant would be resuscitated if that's what the mother and the family desired." 

Northam did not say the fetus should be killed. Killing a newborn baby — or infanticide — is illegal in every state, and not a single state is trying to change that. 

By Laura Doan and Daniel Klaidman

Trump claims Biden "went after" his political opponent in New York "hush money" case to damage him: False        

Trump: "[Biden] basically went after his political opponent (Trump) because he thought it was going to damage me, but when the public found out about these cases, 'cause they understand it better than he does, he has no idea what these cases are, but when they found out about these cases, you know what they did? My poll numbers went up, way up."

Details : There is no federal jurisdiction over a state case. The Manhattan district attorney's office is a  separate entity  from the U.S. Department of Justice. The department does not supervise the work of the Manhattan D.A.'s office, does not approve its charging decisions, and it does not try the D.A.'s cases.

By Pete Villasmil

Trump claims he brought insulin prices down for seniors: Misleading

Trump: "I'm the one that got the insulin down for the seniors. I took care of the seniors."

Details :  During Trump's time as president, Medicare created a voluntary program  in 2020  between some plans and insulin manufacturers that agreed to cap out-of-pocket costs for insulin at $35 per month. Around  half of  Medicare Advantage or stand-alone prescription drug plans ended up participating by 2021. 

David Ricks, CEO of insulin drugmaker Eli Lilly, has taken credit for pioneering the idea with Trump administration officials at a congressional  hearing  and in an  interview . In the same interview with STAT, Seema Verma, former Medicare agency chief in the Trump administration, gave Ricks the credit for the cap: "He is an unsung hero. He was actually the mastermind of all of this." 

Medicare  ended  the policy in 2023, after Mr. Biden signed into law the  Inflation Reduction Act , which capped insulin costs for Medicare beneficiaries — not just for the portion of plans participating in the program. The law capped insulin costs at the same amount of $35 per month.

By Alexander Tin and Hunter Woodall 

Trump claims Biden wants open borders: False

Trump: "He wants open borders. He wants our country to either be destroyed or he wants to pick up those people as voters." 

Details : When he took office, Mr. Biden reversed numerous Trump-era immigration policies, including a program that required migrants to await their asylum hearings in Mexico. U.S. Border Patrol has also reported record numbers of migrant apprehensions along the southern border during Mr. Biden's presidency. But Mr. Biden has never endorsed or implemented an "open borders" policy.

In fact, Mr. Biden has embraced some restrictive border policies that mirror rules enacted by his predecessor. In 2023, his administration published a regulation that disqualified migrants from asylum if they crossed into the country illegally after not seeking protection in a third country. 

Earlier this month, Mr. Biden enacted an even stricter policy: a proclamation that has partially shut down asylum processing along the border. His administration has also carried out over 4 million deportations, expulsions and returns of migrants since 2021, according to  government data .

Only U.S. citizens can vote in federal elections. Most who cross into the U.S. illegally are not on a path to permanent legal status, let alone citizenship. Even those who apply and win asylum — a process that typically takes years to complete — have to wait five years as permanent U.S. residents before applying for American citizenship. There's no evidence to suggest that the Biden administration's border policy is based on a desire to convert migrants into voters.

Biden claims Trump wants to get rid of Social Security: False        

Biden "[Trump] wants to get rid of Social Security. He thinks there's plenty to cut in social security. He's wanted to cut Social Security and Medicare, both times."

Details : Trump has repeatedly  said  he will try to protect Medicare and Social Security. Trump said in a March 21 Truth Social  post  that he would not "under any circumstance" allow Social Security to "be even touched" if he were president. Trump had said in a CNBC  interview  on March 11 that "there is a lot you can do" in terms of "cutting" spending under Social Security. Mr. Biden  said  the comments were proof Trump aimed to make cuts in the programs, but a Trump campaign spokesman  said  Trump was referring to "cutting waste and fraud," not Social Security entitlements.

Trump claims Biden has the "largest deficit" in history of U.S.: False

Trump: "But he's (Biden) got the largest deficit in the history of our country."

Details : The national deficit was the largest it had been in over two decades under Trump's administration, not Mr. Biden's, according to  data from the U.S. Treasury . The deficit peaked in fiscal year 2020 at $3.13 trillion, and declined to $1.7 trillion by the end of fiscal year 2023.

By Julia Ingram

  • Presidential Debate
  • Donald Trump

Arden Farhi is the senior White House producer at CBS News. He has covered several presidential campaigns and the Obama, Trump and Biden administrations. He also produces "The Takeout with Major Garrett."

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Trump keeps baselessly claiming that Biden will be on drugs at debate

The presumptive Republican nominee lodged similar evidence-free allegations in 2016 against Clinton and 2020 against Biden.

what is random assignment and why is it used

In 2016, Donald Trump accused opponent Hillary Clinton of being suspiciously “pumped up” at a presidential debate and said she should take a drug test before the next one.

Four years later, Trump demanded the same of Joe Biden , suggesting at a 2020 rally that a “big fat shot in the a--” of some unknown substance would allow Biden to debate “better than ever before.”

Now, with the first general-election debate of 2024 on Thursday night, Trump has taken the baseless accusation to new heights — accusing the president of being “higher than a kite” during his high-energy State of Union address this year and taking every opportunity to undercut a potentially energetic performance from his opponent.

“DRUG TEST FOR CROOKED JOE BIDEN??? I WOULD, ALSO, IMMEDIATELY AGREE TO ONE!!!” Trump wrote on social media this week. Campaign staff, Republican lawmakers and online influencers have all amplified the idea that Biden will need an injection to debate, with one Trump adviser even sharing a video of a syringe.

There is no evidence that Biden has used or plans to use performance-enhancing drugs. But Trump and his supporters have spread the baseless claim widely, as some Republicans worry openly that the bar for Biden’s performance Thursday has been set too low. Trump senior adviser Danielle Alvarez said in a statement Tuesday that Biden “will be highly prepared and alert on debate night” because of a “perfectly calibrated dosage” and said that the focus should be on Biden’s policy record.

Democrats suggest Trump is trying to preempt a disconnect between the energetic Biden who will show up onstage and the “brain-dead zombie” that Trump’s campaign has portrayed at every turn.

“Donald Trump has never admitted losing anything in his life, and when he does lose, he always cries fraud,” said Democratic campaign strategist Joshua Karp, who compared Trump’s claims about drugs to his false claims the 2020 election was rigged. He said Trump is “confusing his conspiracy theory-loving base with the entire electorate.”

Lauren Hitt, a spokesperson for Biden’s campaign, said in a statement that Trump is “so scared of being held accountable for his toxic agenda” that “he and his allies are resorting to desperate, obviously false lies.”

Trump has a long history of making baseless and false claims with impunity: The Washington Post Fact Checker documented more than 30,000 false or misleading claims from Trump during his presidency. Campaigning for a second term, Trump has continued to make inaccurate claims at rallies and blasted out incendiary emails about his opponent, at one point falsely saying that Biden was “locked & loaded ready to take [him] out” during an FBI search of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate.

Trump and his allies have spent the campaign questioning Biden’s physical and mental capacity, suggesting that he can barely walk or stand and sharing videos of Biden’s appearances that are sometimes edited in misleading ways.

At a rally this past weekend in Philadelphia — his last public event scheduled ahead of the debate — Trump did not discount Biden.

“I’m sure he’ll be prepared,” he said, right before bringing up drugs.

“Whatever happened to all that cocaine that was missing a month ago from the White House?” he said. “Whatever happened?” Trump also repeated his crude comment from 2020, telling the crowd that Biden was resting and then “a little before debate time, he gets a shot in the a--.”

He appeared to be referring to a small bag of cocaine discovered at the White House last summer. Trump has repeatedly suggested the substance was connected to the president and his son Hunter, who has struggled with drug abuse.

Biden and his family, including Hunter, were at Camp David before and after the drug was found on the ground floor of the West Wing, near where visitors taking tours are instructed to leave their cellphones. The Secret Service closed its investigation into the matter without identifying any suspects.

Biden says he has long abstained from drugs and alcohol, attributing the decision to not drink to growing up in a family that had its share of problems with alcohol abuse.

Republicans have floated the idea of Biden’s taking performance-enhancing drugs for months — particularly after the president’s State of the Union speech in March, which Biden allies hoped would help address doubts about his age.

The allegations of drug use have even drawn skepticism from some commentators who are often deferential to Trump.

“I just want to say, look. These are obviously very serious charges, that he’s jacked up. We don’t know that, we’re not doctors. We have no idea,” Fox host Maria Bartiromo said on her show in May, after Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.) described Biden as “jacked up” at the State of the Union and said “the American people need to understand if they’re giving him some injection.”

Still, the claims have gotten extensive news coverage in the lead-up to the CNN debate. Rep. Ronny Jackson (R-Tex.), who served as White House physician under Trump, made headlines with a formal letter to Biden demanding a drug test.

Trump’s advisers have echoed the drug claims. “You know they’re cookin’ in the lab!” longtime campaign aide Jason Miller wrote on X, the social media site, while sharing a news story on Biden’s debate prep.

Republicans are attempting to tap into broad concerns about Biden’s age reflected in public polling. Biden’s doctor said in February, after the president’s physical, that Biden “continues to be fit for duty.”

A Marquette Law School poll conducted in May found that 79 percent of registered voters thought the phrase “too old to be president” described Biden, 81, very well or somewhat well, while 54 percent said the same of Trump, who just turned 78.

Tyler Pager contributed to this report.

what is random assignment and why is it used

Conservative groups launch effort to track votes on GOP platform

what is random assignment and why is it used

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  1. A Comprehensive Guide To Random Selection And Random Assignment

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  3. Random Assignment in Psychology

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  4. Random Assignment in Psychology (Intro for Students) (2024)

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COMMENTS

  1. Random Assignment in Experiments

    Random sampling (also called probability sampling or random selection) is a way of selecting members of a population to be included in your study. In contrast, random assignment is a way of sorting the sample participants into control and experimental groups. While random sampling is used in many types of studies, random assignment is only used ...

  2. Random Assignment in Psychology: Definition & Examples

    Random selection (also called probability sampling or random sampling) is a way of randomly selecting members of a population to be included in your study. On the other hand, random assignment is a way of sorting the sample participants into control and treatment groups. Random selection ensures that everyone in the population has an equal ...

  3. The Definition of Random Assignment In Psychology

    Random assignment refers to the use of chance procedures in psychology experiments to ensure that each participant has the same opportunity to be assigned to any given group in a study to eliminate any potential bias in the experiment at the outset. Participants are randomly assigned to different groups, such as the treatment group versus the control group.

  4. Random assignment

    Random assignment or random placement is an experimental technique for assigning human participants or animal subjects to different groups in an experiment (e.g., a treatment group versus a control group) using randomization, such as by a chance procedure (e.g., flipping a coin) or a random number generator. This ensures that each participant or subject has an equal chance of being placed in ...

  5. Random Assignment in Psychology (Definition + 40 Examples)

    Random Assignment is a process used in research where each participant has an equal chance of being placed in any group within the study. This technique is essential in experiments as it helps to eliminate biases, ensuring that the different groups being compared are similar in all important aspects.

  6. What Is Random Assignment in Psychology?

    Research Methods. Random assignment means that every participant has the same chance of being chosen for the experimental or control group. It involves using procedures that rely on chance to assign participants to groups. Doing this means that every participant in a study has an equal opportunity to be assigned to any group.

  7. Random Assignment in Experiments

    Random assignment uses chance to assign subjects to the control and treatment groups in an experiment. This process helps ensure that the groups are equivalent at the beginning of the study, which makes it safer to assume the treatments caused any differences between groups that the experimenters observe at the end of the study.

  8. Random Assignment in Psychology

    Random assignment is defined as every participant having an equal chance of being in either the experimental group or the control group. Each group is presented with the independent variable , or ...

  9. Randomized Control Trial (RCT)

    Random Allocation. Random allocation and random assignment are terms used interchangeably in the context of a randomized controlled trial (RCT). Both refer to assigning participants to different groups in a study (such as a treatment group or a control group) in a way that is completely determined by chance.

  10. Unraveling the Mystery of Random Assignment in Psychology

    Random assignment is a fundamental component of psychology research, utilized to allocate participants randomly to groups in controlled experiments to investigate the impact of variables on study outcomes. In experimental design, researchers use random assignment to ensure that participants have equal chances of being assigned to different ...

  11. Random Assignment in Psychology (Intro for Students)

    Why Researchers Use Random Assignment. Researchers use random assignment to control for confounds in research. Confounds refer to unwanted and often unaccounted-for variables that might affect the outcome of a study. These confounding variables can skew the results, rendering the experiment unreliable. For example, below is a study with two groups.

  12. Purpose and Limitations of Random Assignment

    1. Random assignment prevents selection bias. Randomization works by removing the researcher's and the participant's influence on the treatment allocation. So the allocation can no longer be biased since it is done at random, i.e. in a non-predictable way. This is in contrast with the real world, where for example, the sickest people are ...

  13. Elements of Research : Random Assignment

    Random assignment . Random assignment is a procedure used in experiments to create multiple study groups that include participants with similar characteristics so that the groups are equivalent at the beginning of the study. The procedure involves assigning individuals to an experimental treatment or program at random, or by chance (like the ...

  14. Random sampling vs. random assignment (scope of inference)

    Random sampling Not random sampling; Random assignment: Can determine causal relationship in population. This design is relatively rare in the real world. Can determine causal relationship in that sample only. This design is where most experiments would fit. No random assignment: Can detect relationships in population, but cannot determine ...

  15. Why randomize?

    Random assignment controls for both known and unknown variables that can creep in with other selection processes to confound analyses. Randomized experimental design is a powerful tool for drawing valid inferences about cause and effect. The use of randomized experimental design should allow a degree of certainty that the research findings ...

  16. Issues in Outcomes Research: An Overview of Randomization Techniques

    Randomization based on a single sequence of random assignments is known as simple randomization. 10 This technique maintains complete randomness of the assignment of a person to a particular group. The most common and basic method of simple randomization is flipping a coin. For example, with 2 treatment groups (control versus treatment), the ...

  17. What is random assignment?

    Random assignment is used in experiments with a between-groups or independent measures design. In this research design, there's usually a control group and one or more experimental groups. Random assignment helps ensure that the groups are comparable.

  18. How Random Selection Is Used For Research

    Random selection refers to how the sample is drawn from the population as a whole, whereas random assignment refers to how the participants are then assigned to either the experimental or control groups. It is possible to have both random selection and random assignment in an experiment. Imagine that you use random selection to draw 500 people ...

  19. Random Sampling vs. Random Assignment

    Random assignment is a fundamental part of a "true" experiment because it helps ensure that any differences found between the groups are attributable to the treatment, rather than a confounding variable. So, to summarize, random sampling refers to how you select individuals from the population to participate in your study. Random assignment ...

  20. PDF Random Assignment

    Random Assignment. In the context of the all causes model, we may state the random assignment assumption as follows: Assumption 1 (Random assignment; RA) Let (Y,W,U) be a random vector with joint distribution characterized by Equation (1). Random assignment assumes W ‹‹ U. (3) In words: the policy W is independent of all other determinants U.

  21. What Is Random Selection?

    Many studies and experiments actually use both random selection and random assignment. For example, random selection might be used to draw 100 students to participate in a study. Each of these 100 participants would then be randomly assigned to either the control group or the experimental group. Reasons to Use Random Selection. What is the ...

  22. Rerandomization: What Is It and Why Should You Use It For Random

    When the criteria for acceptable balance is objective and specified in advance, and when treatment groups are equally sized, rerandomization maintains overall unbiasedness while also guarding against conditional bias due to chance imbalance. Thus we preserve the "gold standard" benefits of randomization, while avoiding detrimental chance ...

  23. Random Assignment in Experiments

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  26. Trump and Biden's first presidential debate of 2024, fact checked

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