Inferential Statistics

Inferential statistics are used to draw inferences about a population from a sample. Consider an experiment in which 10 subjects who performed a task after 24 hours of sleep deprivation scored 12 points lower than 10 subjects who performed after a normal night's sleep. Is the difference real or could it be due to chance? How much larger could the real difference be than the 12 points found in the sample? These are the types of questions answered by inferential statistics.

There are two main methods used in inferential statistics: estimation and hypothesis testing. In estimation, the sample is used to estimate a parameter and a confidence interval about the estimate is constructed.

In the most common use of hypothesis testing, a "straw man" null hypothesis is put forward and it is determined whether the data are strong enough to reject it. For the sleep deprivation study, the null hypothesis would be that sleep deprivation has no effect on performance.