Misunderstanding of Confidence Intervals and Standard Error Bars

Little is known about researchers’ understanding of confidence intervals (CIs) and standard error (SE) bars. Authors of journal articles in psychology, behavioral neuroscience, and medicine were invited to visit a Web site where they adjusted a figure until they judged 2 means, with error bars, to be just statistically significantly different (p < .05). Results from 473 respondents suggest that many leading researchers have severe misconceptions about how error bars relate to statistical significance, do not adequately distinguish CIs and SE bars, and do not appreciate the importance of whether the 2 means are independent or come from a repeated measures design. Better guidelines for researchers and less ambiguous graphical conventions are needed before the advantages of CIs for research communication can be realized.