Planning with assurance, with assurance

Planning for precision requires that we choose a target Margin of Error (MoE; see this post for an introduction to the basic concepts) and a value for assurance, the probability that MoE will not exceed our target MoE.  What your exact target MoE will be depends on your research goals, of course.

Cumming and Calin-Jageman (2017, p. 277) propose a strategy for determining target MoE. You can use this strategy if your research goal is to provide strong evidence that the effect size is non-zero. The strategy is to divide the expected value of the difference by two, and to use that result as your target MoE.

Let’s restrict our attention to the comparison of two means. If the expected difference between the two means is Cohens’s d = .80, the proposed strategy is to set your target MoE at f = .40, which means that your target MoE is set at .40 standard deviations. If you plan for this value of target MoE with 80% assurance, the recommended sample size is n = 55 participants per group. These results are guaranteed to be true, if it is known for a fact that Cohen’s d is .80 and all statistical assumptions apply.

But it is generally not known for a fact that Cohen’s d has a particular value and so we need to answer a non-trivial question: what effect size can we reasonably expect? And, how can we have assurance that the MoE will not exceed half the unknown true effect size? One of the many options we have for answering this question is to conduct a pilot study, estimate the plausible values of the effect size and use these values for sample size planning.  I will describe a strategy that basically mirrors the sample size planning for power approach described by Anderson, Kelley, and Maxwell (2017).

The procedure is as follows. In order to plan with approximately 80% assurance, estimate on the basis of your pilot the 80% confidence interval for the population effect size and use half the value of the lower limit for sample size planning with 90% assurance. This will give you 81% assurance that assurance MoE is no larger than half the unknown true effect size.

The logic of planning with assurance, with assurance

There are two “problems” we need to consider when estimating the true effect size. The first problem is that there is at least 50% probability of obtaining an overestimate of the true effect size. If that happens, and we take the point estimate of the effect size as input for sample size planning, what we “believe” to be a sample size sufficient for 80% assurance will be a sample size that has less than 80% assurance at least 50% of the times. So, using the point estimate gives assurance MoE for the unknown effect size with less than 50% assurance.

To make it more concrete: suppose the true effect equals .80, and we use n = 25 participants in both groups of the pilot study, the probability is  approximately 50% that the point estimate is above .80. This implies, of course, that we will plan for a value of f > .40, approximately 50% of the times, and so the sample we get will only give us 80% assurance 50% of the times.

The second problem is that the small sample sizes we normally use for pilot studies may give highly imprecise estimates. For instance, with n = 25 participants per group, the expected MoE is f = 0.5687. So, even if we accept 50% assurance, it is highly likely that the point estimate is rather imprecise.

Since we are considering a pilot study,  one of the obvious solutions, increasing the sample size so that expected MoE is likely to be small, is not really an option. But what we can do is to use an estimate that is unlikely to be an overestimate of the true effect size. In particular, we can use as our estimate the lower limit of a confidence interval for the effect size.

Let me explain, by considering the 80% CI  of the effect size estimate. From basic theory it follows that the “true” value of the effect size will be smaller than the lower limit of the 80% confidence interval with probability  equal to 10%. That is, if we calculate a huge number of 80% confidence intervals, each time on the basis of new random samples from the population, the true value of the effect size will be below the lower limit in 10% of the cases. This also means that the lower limit of the interval has 90% probability to not overestimate the true effect size.

This means that  if we take the lower limit of the 80% CI of the pilot estimate as input for our sample size calculations, and if we plan with assurance of .90, we will have 90%*90% = 81% assurance that using the sample size we get from our calculations will have  MoE  no larger than half the true effect size. (Note that for 80% CI’s with negative limits you should choose the upper limit).

Sample Size planning based on a pilot study

Student of mine recently did a pilot study.  This was a pilot for an experiment investigating the size of the effect of fluency of delivery of a spoken message in a video on Comprehensibility, Persuasiveness and viewers’ Appreciation of the video. The pilot study used two groups of size n = 10, one group watched the fluent video (without ‘eh’) and the other group watched the disfluent video where the speaker used ‘eh’ a lot. The dependent variables were measured on 7-point scales.

Let’s look at the results for the Appreciation variable. The (biased) estimate of Cohen’s d (based on the pooled standard deviation) equals 1.09, 80% CI [0.46, 1.69] (I’ve calculated this using the ci.smd function from the MBESS-package. According to the rules-of-thumb for interpreting Cohen’s d, this can be considered a large effect. (For communication effect studies it can be considered an insanely large effect). However, the CI shows the large imprecision of the result, which is of course what we can expect with sample sizes of n = 10. (Average MoE equals f = 0.95, and according to my rules-of-thumb that is well below what I consider to be borderline precise).

If we use the lower limit of the interval (d = 0.46),  sample size planning with 90% assurance for half that effect (f = 0.23) gives us a sample size equal to n = 162. (Technical note: I planned  for the half-width of the standardized CI of the unstandardized effect size, not for the CI of the standardized effect size; I used my Shiny App for planning assuming an independent groups design with two groups).  As explained, since we used the lower limit of the 80% CI of the pilot and used 90% assurance in planning the sample size, the assurance that MoE will not exceed half the unknown true effect size equals 81%.

Planning for precise contrast estimates in between subjects designs

Here I would like to explain the procedure for sample size planning for one-way and two-way (factorial) between subjects designs. We will consider examples based on and described in Haans (2018).

The first example: one-way design

The first example considers the effect of seating location  of students on their educational performance. Seating location is defined as distance from the teacher and operationalized in terms of the row the student is seated in, with first row being the closest to the teacher and the fourth row being the furthest away. 20 Students are randomly assigned to one of the four possible rows, so N = 20, n = 5. The dependent variable is the course grade of the student. (Note: the data and study are hypothetical).

As Haans (2018) explains, one psychological theory explaining the effect of seating position on educational performance is based on social influence. This theory posits that due to the social influence of the teacher, the students that are seated closest to the teacher find themselves in a state of undivided attention. This undivided attention causes their educational performance to be better than the students who are seated further away.

In operational terms, then, we may expect that first row students will have a better average grade than students seated on the other rows. So, the quantitative research question we are interested in is:

“How much do the average grades differ between students seated first row and the students seated on other rows?”

We can estimate this quantity with a Helmert Contrast, where we assign a contrast weight of 1 to mean of the first row grades and weights -1/3 to the means of the grades in the other rows.

Haans (2018) gives us the following results. The contrast estimate equals 2.00 , 95% CI [0.27, 3.73]. In order to interpret this more easily, we divide this estimate by the square root Mean Square Error, to obtain the standardized estimate and standardized confidence interval (not to be confused with the confidence interval of the standardized estimate, but that’s a different story. The result is: 1.26, 95% CI [0.17, 2.36].

To answer the research question, the estimated difference equals 1.26 standard deviations, which according to rule-of-thumbs frequently used in psychology is a large difference. The CI shows the enormous amount of uncertainty of this estimate: population values between 0.17 (small) and 2.36 (very large) are also consistent with the observed data and our statistical assumptions. So, it seems safe to conclude that it looks like there is a positive effect of seating position, but the wide range of the CI makes it clear that the data do not tell us enough about the size of the effect, the precision is simply too low.

The precision is f = 1.09, which according to my rules-of-thumb is very imprecise (I consider f = 0.65, to be barely tolerable).

So, let’s plan for a replication study with a reasonably precise estimate of  f = 0.40, with 80% assurance. (Note: for some advice on setting target Moe: Planning with assurance, with assurance. ) I’ve used the app: with the default values for a single factor between subjects design with 4 conditions.  According to the app, we need n = 36 participants per condition (making a total of  N = 144).

(For more detailed information considering sample size planning for contrast analysis see: and for some guidelines for setting target MoE:

The second example: factorial design

Our second example is also taken from Haans (2018). It considered the same phenomenon, the effect of students’ seating distance from the teacher and the educational performance of the students.

A second theory explaining the effect is that the effect is mainly caused by the teacher having decreased levels of eye contact with the students sitting farther to the back in the lecture hall.

To test that theory, a experiment was conducted with N = 72 participants attending a lecture. The lecture was given to two independent groups of 36 pariticpant. The first group attended the lecture while the teacher was wearing dark sunglasses, the second group attented the lecture while the teacher was not wearing sunglasses,. Again, all participants were randomly assigned to 1 of 4 possible rows. The dependent variable was the score on a 10-item questionnaire about the contents of the lecture.

Now, if the eyecontact of the teachter is the causal variable, we may expect that in this experimental setup the difference between the average score of the persons seated on the first row and the averages of the other rows will be smaller for the condition where the teacher wears sunglasses than for the condition in which the teacher does not wear these glasses, as wearing sunglasses prevents eye-contact between the teacher and the students. Our quantitative question is therefore:

“How much does the contrast between the first row and the others rows differ between the conditions with and without sunglasses?”

In other words, we are interested in the size of the interaction effect.

I’ve downloaded the dataset from (between2by4data.sav) and specified the following syntax in SPSS:

UNIANOVA retention BY sunglasses location
 /LMATRIX = “Interaction contrast” sunglasses*location 1 -1/3 -1/3 – 1/3 -1 1/3 1/3 1/3 intercept 0
  /DESIGN= sunglasses*location.

The result of the analysis is that the contrast estimate equals 1.0, 95% CI [-0.33, 2.33]. If we standardize this with the within condition variance (the condition being the combination of the levels of the two factors), we get 0.82, 95% CI [-0.27, 1.90].

So, it appears that the difference between the means of the first row and that of the other rows is on average 1.0 points larger in the condition without sunglasses than in the condition with sunglasses. This corresponds to a large difference (dwith = .82). However, the CI also contains negative population difference (albeit that they are smallish), so even though the results are promising for the theory (eyecontact), these negative effects will not persuade a critical reviewer of the study. Indeed, these negative effects contradict the substantive hypothesis.

Again, the confidence interval is so wide, that effects ranging from small negative effects to huge positive effects are considered plausible. Since the results are promising for the theory, a replication study with more precision may be needed to persuade the critics. Let’s plan for a precision of f = .25 with 95% assurance.

I’ve used the app: specifying that we have a factorial design with a = 2 levels and b = 4 levels. The result is that for the interaction contrast  with f = .25 and assurance = .95, we need 175 participants per combination of the two factors. This means, that a total of N = 1400 must be recruited.

I’ve taken this from the following output.

Planning for precision of a contrast estimate
Figure 1: Output of sample size planning 

I’ve looked at the  “Contrast Summary Tab” to check that interaction A1B1 is the correct one (see Figure 2).

Interaction contrast weights
Figure 2. Summary of contrast weights.

What’s important in the above figure is that the set of weights for A1B1 matches the set of weights used to get the contrast estimate in SPSS (In the LMATRIX-subcommand), so that’s how we know that A1B1 is the contrast we want.  (Note: if you switch the number of levels in the app, that is, use 4 levels for A and 2 for B, the interaction weights will match perfectly).

Haans, Antal (2018). Contrast Analysis: A Tutorial. Practical Assessment, Research, & Education, 23(9). Available online:

Sample size planning for precision: the basics

In this post, I will introduce some of the ideas underlying sample size planning for precision. The ideas are illustrated with a shiny-application which can be found here: The app illustrates the basic theory considering sample size planning for two independent groups. (If the app is no longer available (my allotted active monthly hours are limited on, contact me and I’ll send you the code).

The basic idea

The basic idea is that we are planning an experiment to estimate the difference in population means of an experimental and a control group. We want to know how many observations per group we have to make in order to estimate the difference between the means with a given target precision. 
Our measure of precision is the Margin of Error (MOE).  In the app, we specify our target MOE as a fraction (f) of the population standard deviation. However, we do not only specify our target MOE, but also our desired level of assurance. The assurance is the probability that our obtained MOE will not exceed our target MOE. Thus, if the assurance is .80 and our target MOE is f = .50, we have a probability of 80% that our obtained MOE will not exceed f = .50. 
The only part of the app you need for sample size planning is the “Sample size planning”-form. Specify f, and the assurance, and the app will give you the desired sample size. 
If you do that with the default values f = .50 and Assurance  = .80, the app will give you the following results on the Planning Results-tab:  Sample Size: 36.2175, Expected MOE (f): 0.46. This tells you that you need to sample 37 participants (for instance) per group and then the Expected MOE (the MOE you will get on average) will equal 0.46 (or even a little less, since you sample more than 36.2175 participants). 
The Planning-Results-tab also gives you a figure for the power of the t-test, testing the NHST nil-hypothesis for the effect size (Cohen’s d) specified in the “Set population values”-form. Note that this form, like the rest of the app provides details that are not necessary for sample size planning for precision, but make the theoretical concepts clear. So, let’s turn to those details. 

The population

Even though it is not at all necessary to specify the population values in detail, considering the population helps to realize the following. The sample size calculations and the figures for expected MOE and power, are based on the assumption that we are dealing with random samples from normal populations with equal variances (standard deviations). 
From these three assumptions, all the results follow deductively.  The following is important to realize:  if these assumptions do not obtain, the truth of the (statistical) conclusions we derive by deduction is no longer guaranteed. (Maybe you have never before realized that sample size planning involves deductive reasoning; deductive reasoning is also required for the calculation of p-values and to prove that 95% confidence intervals contain the value of the population parameter in 95% of the cases; without these assumptions is it uncertain what the true p-value is and whether or not the 95% confidence interval is in fact a 95% confidence interval).

In general, then, you should try to show (to others, if not to yourself) that it is reasonable to assume normally distributed populations, with equal variances and random sampling, before you decide that the p-value of your t-test, the width of your confidence interval, and the results of sample size calculations are believable.

The populations in the app are normal distributions. By default, the app shows two such distributions. One of the distributions, the one I like to think about as corresponding to the control condition, has μ = 0, the other one has μ = 0.5. Both distributions have a standard deviation (σ = 1). The standardized difference between the means is therefore equal to δ = 0.50.

The default populations are presented in Figure 1 below.

normal populations
Figure 1: Two normal distributions. The distribution to the left has μ = 0, the one to the right has μ = 0.5 The standard deviation in both distributions equals σ = 1. The standardized difference δ and the unstandardized difference between the means both equal 0.50. 

The sampling distribution of the mean difference 

The other default setting in the app is a sample size (per group) of n = 20.  From the sample size and the specification of the populations, we can deduce the probability density of the different values of the estimates of the difference between the population means. The estimate is simply the difference between the sample means.

This so-called sampling distribution of the mean difference is depicted on the tab next to the population. Figure 2 shows what the sampling distribution looks like if we repeatedly draw random samples of size n = 20 per group from our populations and keep track of the difference between the sample means we get in each repetition.

sampling distribution of difference
Figure 2: Sampling distribution of the difference between two sample means based on samples of n = 20 per group and random sampling from the populations described in Figure 1. 

Note that the mean of the sampling distribution equals 0.5 (as indicated by the middle vertical line). This is of course the (default) difference between the population means in the app. So, on average, estimates of the population difference equal the population difference.

The lines to the left and the right of the mean indicate the mean plus or minus the Margin of Error (MOE). The values corresponding to the lines are 0.5 ± MOE. 95% of estimates of the population mean difference have a value between these lines.

Conceptually, the purpose of planning for precision is to decrease the (horizontal) distance between these lines and the population mean difference. In other words, we would like the left and right lines as close to the mean of the distribution as is practically acceptable and possible.

The distribution of the t-statistic 

The tab next to the sampling distribution tab contains a figure representing the sampling distribution of the t-statistic. The sampling distribution of t can be deduced on the basis of the population values and the sample size.  In the app, it is assumed that t is calculated under the assumption that the null-hypothesis of zero difference between the means is true. The sampling distribution of t is what you get if you repeatedly sample from the populations as specified, calculate the t-statistic and keep a record of the values of the t-statistic.

The sampling distribution of the t-statistic presented in Figure 3 contains two vertical lines. These lines are located (horizontally) on the value of t that would lead to rejection of the null-hypothesis of equal population means. In other words, the lines are located at the critical value of t (for a two-tailed test).

distribution of t
Figure 3: Distribution of the t-statistic testing the null-hypothesis of equal population means. The distribution is based on sampling from the populations described in Figure 3. The sample size is n = 20 per group. The lines represent the critical value of t for a two sided t-test. The area between the vertical lines is the probability of a type II error. The combined areas to the left of the left line and to the right of the right line is the power of the test. 

The area between the lines is the probability that the null-hypothesis will not be rejected. In the case of a true population mean difference (which is the default assumption in the app), that probability is the probability of an error of the second kind: a type II error.

The complement of that probability is called the power of the test. This is, of course, the area to the left of the left vertical line added to the area to the right of the right vertical line. Conceptually, the power of the test is the probability of rejecting the null-hypothesis when in fact it is false.

Figure 3 clearly demonstrates that if the true mean difference equals 0.50 and the sample size (per group) equals n = 20, that there is a large probability that the null-hypothesis will not be rejected. Actually, the probability of a type II error equals .66. (So, the power of the test is .34).

Sample size planning for precision

With respect to sample size planning for precision, the app by default takes half of a standard deviation (f = .50) as the target MOE. Besides, planning is with 80% assurance. This means that the default settings search for a sample size (per group), so that with 80%  probability MOE will not exceed 0.50 (Note that the default value of the standard deviation is 1, so an f of .50 corresponds to a target MOE of  0.50 on the scale of the data; Likewise, were the standard deviation equal to 2, an f of .50 would correspond to a target MOE of 1.0).

As described above, planning with the default values gives us a sample size of  n = 37 per group, with an expected MOE of 0.46. In the tab next to the planning results, a figure displays what you can expect to find on average, given the planned sample size and the specification of the population. That figure is repeated here as Figure 4.

Expected results
Figure 4: Expected results in terms of point and interval estimates (95% confidence intervals). This is what you will find on average given the population specification in Figure 1 and using the default values for sample size planning. 

Figure 4 displays point and interval estimates of the group means and the difference between the means. The interval estimates are 95% confidence intervals. The figure clearly shows that on average, our estimate of the difference is very imprecise. That is, the expected 95% confidence interval ranges from almost 0 (0.50 – 0.46 = 0.04) to almost 1 (0.50 + 0.46 = 0.96). Of course, using n = 20, would be worse still.

A nice thing about the app (well, I for one think it’s pretty cool) is that as soon as you ask for the sample sizes, the sample size in the set population values form is automatically updated. Most importantly, this will also update the sampling distribution graphs of the difference between the means and the t-statistic. So, it provides an excellent way of showing what the updated sample size means in terms of MOE and the power of the t-test.

Let’s have a look at the sampling distribution of the mean difference, see Figure 5.

Sampling distribution of the difference.
Figure 5: Sampling distribution of the mean difference with n = 37 per group. Compare with Figure 2 to see the (small) difference in the Margin of Error compared to n = 20.  

If you compare Figures 5 and 2, you see that the vertical lines corresponding to the mean plus and minus MOE have shifted somewhat towards the mean. So here you can see, that almost doubling the sample size (from 20 to 37) had the desired effect of making MOE smaller.

I would like to point out the similarity between the sampling distribution of the difference and the expected results plot in Figure 4. If you look at the expected results for our estimate of the population difference, you see that the point estimate corresponds to the mean of the sampling distribution, which is of course equal to the populations mean difference and that the limits of the expected confidence interval correspond to the left and right vertical lines in Figure 5. Thus, on average the limits of the confidence interval correspond to the values that mark the middle 95% of the sampling distribution of the samples mean difference.

Since we specified an assurance of 80%, there is an 80% probability that in repeated sampling from the populations (see Figure 1) with n = 37 per group, our (estimated) MOE will not exceed half a standard deviation. Thus, whatever the true value of the populations mean difference is, there is a high probability that our estimate will not be more than half a standard deviation away from the mean. This is, I think, one of the major advantages of sample size planning for precision: we do not have to specify the unknown population mean difference. This is in contrast to sample size planning for power, where we do have to specify a specific population mean difference.

Speaking of power, the results of the sample size planning suggest that for our specification of the populations mean difference (Cohen’s delta = 0.50) the power of the test equals 0.56. Thus, there is a probability of 56% that with n = 37 per group the t-test will reject. The probability of a type II error is therefore 44%.

Figure 6 shows the distribution of the t statistic with n = 37 per group and a standardized effect size of 0.50.

Distribution of the t statistic
Figure 6. The distribution of the t-statistic testing the null-hypothesis of equal population means. The distribution is based on the population specification in Figure 1 and sample sizes of n = 37 per group, with true effect size equal to 0.50. The probability of a type II error is the area of under the curve between the two vertical lines. The power is the area under the curve beyond the two lines. Compare with Figure 3 to see the differences in these probabilities compared to n = 20.

Power versus precision

Now suppose that the unstandardized mean difference between the population means equals 2 and that the standard deviation equals 2.5.  I just filled in the set population values form, setting the mean of population 2 to 2.0 and the standard deviation to 2.5. And I clicked set values.

Let us plan for a target MOE of  f = 0.5 standard deviations with 80% assurance. Click get sample sizes in the sample size planning form. In this case, target MOE equals 1.25.

The results are not very surprising. Since the f did not change compared to the previous time, the results as regards the sample size are exactly the same. We  need n = 37. Again, this is what I like about sample size planning, no matter what the unknown situation in the population is, I just want my margin of error to be no more than half a standard deviation (for example).

But the power did change (of course). Since the standardized population mean difference is now 0.80 (= 2.0 / 2.5) in stead of 0.50, and all the other specifications remained the same, the power increases from 56% to 92%. That’s great.

However, the high probability of rejecting the null-hypothesis does not mean that we get precise estimates. On average, the point estimate of the difference equals 2 and the 95% confidence limits are  0.85 and 3.15 (the point estimate plus or minus 0.46 times the standard deviation of 2.5). See Figure 7.

Expected results large standardized effect
Figure 7: Expected results using n = 37 when sampling from two normal populations with equal standard deviations (σ = 2.5) and mean difference of 2.0. The standardized effect size equals 0.80. Note the imprecision of the estimates even though the power of the t-test equals .92.

In short, even though there is a high probability of  (correctly) rejecting the null-hypothesis of equal population means, we are still not in the position to confidently conclude what the size of the difference is: the expected confidence interval is very wide. 

Planning for a precise interaction contrast estimate

In my previous post (here),  I wrote about obtaining a confidence interval for the estimate of an interaction contrast. I demonstrated, for a simple two-way independent factorial design, how to obtain a confidence interval by making use of the information in an ANOVA source table and estimates of the marginal means and how a custom contrast estimate can be obtained with SPSS.

One of the results of the analysis in the previous post was that the 95% confidence interval for the interaction was very wide. The estimate was .77, 95% CI [0.04, 1.49]. Suppose that it is theoretically or practically important to know the value of the contrast to a more precise degree.  (I.e. some researchers will be content that the CI allows for a directional qualitative interpretation: there seems to exist a positive interaction effect, but others, more interested in the quantitative questions may not be so easily satisfied).  Let’s see how we can plan the research to obtain a more precise estimate. In other words, let’s plan for precision.

Of course, there are several ways in which the precision of the estimate can be increased. For instance, by using measurement procedures that are designed to obtain reliable data, we could change the experimental design, for example switching to a repeated measures (crossed) design, and/or increase the number of observations. An example of the latter would be to increase the number of participants and/or the number of observations per participant.  We will only consider the option of increasing the number of participants, and keep the independent factorial design, although in reality we would of course also strive for a measurement instrument that generally gives us highly reliable data. (By the way, it is possible to use my Precision application to investigate the effects of changing the experimental design on the expected precision of contrast estimates in studies with 1 fixed factor and 2 random factors).

The plan for the rest of this post is as follows. We will focus on getting a short confidence interval for our interaction estimate, and we will do that by considering the half-width of the interval, the Margin of Error (MOE). First we will try to find a sample size that gives us an expected MOE (in repeated replication of the experiment with new random samples) no more than a target MOE. Second, we will try to find a sample size that gives a MOE smaller than or equal to our target MOE in a specifiable percentage (say, 80% or 90%) of replication experiments. The latter approach is called planning with assurance.

Let us get back to some of the SPSS output we considered in the previous post to get the ingredients we need for sample size planning. First, the ANOVA table.

Table 1. ANOVA source table

We are interested in estimating and optimizing the precision of an interaction contrast estimate. The first things we need are an expression of the error variance needed to calculate the standard error of the estimate and the degrees of freedom that were used in estimating the error variance. In general, the error variance needed is the same error variance you would use in performing an F-test for the specific effect, in this case the interaction effect.

Thus, we note the error variance used to test the interaction effect, i.e. mean square error, and the degrees of freedom. The value of mean square error is 3.324, and the degrees of freedom are 389. Note that this value is the total sample sizes minus the number of conditions (393 – 4 = 389), or, equivalently, the total sample sizes minus the degrees of freedom of the intercept, the main effects, and the interaction (393 – (1 + 1 + 1 + 1) = 389).  I will call these degrees of freedom the error degrees of freedom, dfe.

MOE can be obtained by multiplying a critical t-value with the same degrees of freedom as the error degrees of freedom with the standard error of the estimate.

The standard error of the contrast estimate is

    \[\hat{\sigma_\psi}= \sqrt{\sum{c_i^2MS_e/n_i}},\]

where c_i is the contrast weight for the i-th condition mean, and n_i the number of observations (in our example participants) in treatment condition i.  Note that MS_e / n_i is the variance of  treatment mean i, the square root of which gives the familiar standard error of the mean.

The contrast weights we used to estimate the 2 x 2 interaction were {-1, 1, 1, -1}. So, the expression for MOE becomes

    \[MOE =  t_{.975}(df_e)\sqrt{\sum{c_i^2MS_e/n_i}}=t_{.975}(df_e)\sqrt{4MS_e/n_i} = 2t_{.975}(df_e)\sqrt{MS_e/n_i}.\]

Thus, suppose we have the independent 2×2 factorial design, n_i = 100, and the true value of Mean Square Error is 3.324, then MOE for the contrast estimate equals

    \[MOE = 2*t_{.975}(396)*\sqrt{3.324/100} = 0.7071\]

Note that this is the value of MOE we obtain on average in repeated replications with new samples, if we use sample sizes of 100 (total number of participants is 400) and if the true value of the error variance is 3.324.  The value is close to the value we obtained in the previous post (MOE = 0.72) because the sample sizes were very close to 100 per group.

Now, we found the original confidence interval too wide, and we have just seen how 100 participants per group does not really help. MOE is only slightly smaller than our originally obtained MOE. We need to set a target MOE and then figure out how many participants we need to get that target MOE.

Intermezzo: Rules of thumb for target MOE

(Here are some updated rules of thumb:

In the absence of theoretical or practical considerations about the precision we want, we may want to use rules of thumb. My (very first proposal for) rules of thumb are based on the default interpretations of Cohen’s d. Considering the absolute values of d ≤ .10 to be negligible d = .20 small, d = .50 medium and d = .80 large. (I really do not like rules-of-thumb, because using them is a sign that you are not thinking).

Now, suppose that we interpret the confidence interval as a range of plausible values for the true value of the effect size. It is not at all clear to me what such a supposition entails, but let’s simply take it for granted right now (please don’t). Then, I think it is reasonable to say that being able to distinguish between small and negligible effects sizes is relatively precise. Thus a MOE of .05 (pooled) standard deviations  can be considered precise because (on average) the 95% CI for the small effect sizes is [.15, .25], assuming we know the value of the standard deviation, so negligible effects will not be deemed plausible values on average, since effect sizes smaller than .10 are outside the interval.

By essentially the same reasoning. if we cannot distinguish between large and negligible effects, we are not estimating things very precisely. Therefore, a MOE of .80 standard deviations can be considered to be not very precise. On average, the CI for an existing large effect, will be [0,  1.60], so it includes both negligible and very large effects as plausible values.

For medium (does it make sense to speak of medium precision?) precision I would like to suggest .20-.25 standard deviations. On average, with this value for MOE, if there is a medium effect, small effects and large effects are relatively implausible.  In the case of small effects, medium precision entails that on average both effects in the opposite direction and medium effects are among the plausible values.

Of course, I am interpreting the d-values as strict boundaries, but the scale is not categorical, but continuous. So instead of small, large effect sizes, it’s better to speak of smallish and largish effect sizes. And as soon as I find a variant for medium effects sizes I will also include that term in the list.

Note: sample size planning may indicate that precision of MOE = .20-.25 standard deviations is unattainable. In that case, we will simply have to accept that our precision does not lead to confident conclusions about the population effect size. (Once I showed one of my colleagues my precision app, during which he said: “that amount of precision requires a very large sample. I do not like your ideas about sample size planning”).

(By the way, I am also considering rules-of-thumb for target MOE that include assurance. Something like: high precision is when repeated experiments have a high probability of distinguishing small and negligible effects; in that case the average MOE will be smaller than .05).

Planning for precision

Let’s plan for a precision of 0.25 standard deviation. In our case, that standard deviation is the pooled standard deviation: the square root of Mean Square Error. The (estimated) value of  Mean Square Error is 3.324 (see Table 1), so our value for the standard deviation is 1.8232.  Our target MOE is, therefore, 0.4558.
Let’s make things very clear. Here we are planning for a target MOE based on an estimate of the pooled standard deviation (and on assumptions about the population distribution). In order for our planning to be of practical value, we need some reassurance that that estimate is trustworthy. One way of doing that is to consider the CI for the standard deviation. I will not discuss that topic, and simply give you a CI: [2.90,  3.86].
Take a look at the expression for MOE.

    \[MOE = 2*t_{.975}(df_e)\sqrt{(MS_w / n_i)},\]

where df_e = 4(n_i - 1), since we are considering the 2×2 design.

Since our target MOE equals .4588, our goal becomes to solve the following equation for n_i, since we want the sample size:

    \[0.4558 = 2*t_{.975}(4(n_i - 1)\sqrt{(MS_w / n_i)},\]

However, because n_i determines both the standard error and the degrees of freedom (and thereby the critical value of t), the equation may be a little hard to solve.  So, I will create a function in R that enables me to quite easily get the required sample size. (It is relatively easy to create a more general function (see the Precision App), but here I will give an example tailored to the specific situation at hand).

First we create a function to calculate MOE:

MOE = function(n) {
  MOE = 2*qt(.975, 4*(n - 1))*sqrt(3.324/n)

Next, we will define a loss function and use R’s built-in optimize function to determine the sample size. Note that the loss-function calculates the squared difference between MOE based on a sample size n and our target MOE. The optimize function minimizes that squared difference in terms of sample size n (starting with n = 100 and stopping at n = 1000).

loss <- function(n) {
  (MOE(n) - 0.4558)^2

optimize(loss, c(100, 1000))
## $minimum
## [1] 246.4563
## $objective
## [1] 8.591375e-18

Thus, according to the optimize function we need 247 participants (per group; total N = 988), to get an expected MOE equal to our target MOE. The expected MOE equals 0.4553, which you can confirm by using the MOE function we made above.

Planning with assurance

Although expected MOE is close to our target MOE, there is a probability 50% that the obtained MOE will be larger than our target MOE.  In other words, repeated sampling will lead to obtained MOEs larger than what we want. That is to say, we have 50% assurance that our obtained MOE will be at least as small as our target MOE.
Planning with assurance means that we aim for a certain specified assurance that our obtained MOE will not exceed our target MOE. For instance, we may want to have 80% assurance that our obtained MOE will not exceed our target MOE.
Basically, what we need to do is take the sampling distribution of the estimate of  Mean Square Error into account. We use the following formula (see also my post introducing the Precision App for the general formulae:

    \[MOE_{\gamma} = 2*t_{.975}(df)*\sqrt{MS_w/n_i*\chi^2_{\gamma}(df)/df},\]

where gamma is the assurance expressed in a probability between 0 and 1.

Let’s do it in R. Again, the function that calculates assurance MOE is  tailored for the specific situation, but it is relatively easy to formulate these functions in a generally applicable way,
MOE.gamma = function(n) {
  df = 4*(n-1)
  MOE = 2*qt(.975, df)*sqrt(3.324/n*qchisq(.80, df)/df)
loss <- function(n) {
  (MOE.gamma(n) - 0.4558)^2

optimize(loss, c(100, 1000))
## $minimum
## [1] 255.576
## $objective
## [1] 2.900716e-18

Thus, according to the results, we need 256 persons per group (N = 1024 in total) to have a 80% probability of obtaining a MOE not larger than our target MOE. In that case, our expected MOE will be 0.4472.