News & Events

Print/PDF this page:

Print Friendly and PDF

Share this page:

Ayres, Ayres & Ayres et al Publish "Seeing Significance" Statistical Study


During a Yale Law School community hike at Sleeping Giant Park in the fall of 2005, William K. Townsend Professor of Law Ian Ayres '86 and his daughter, Antonia Ayres-Brown, started talking stats. What began as a casual conversation about statistics soon became an Ayres-Brown family study.

The study's resulting article—titled "Seeing Significance: Is the 95% Probability Range Easier to Perceive?"—was recently accepted for publication by Chance magazine, a leading publication of the American Statistical Association. Professor Ayres shares the author credit with Antonia and with his son, Henry Ayres-Brown. Henry and Anna collected over 500 surveys from students at Quinnipiac and Yale, entered them into Excel, and analyzed them.

"Seeing Significance" posits that people are able to make better estimates of 90 percent and 95 percent centered probability ranges of a normal distribution than either larger or smaller probability ranges. As its central survey question the Ayres study asked participants to identify the average height of an adult woman in the U.S. "If you ask people for the range of heights that just includes 90 percent of adult women in the U.S. you will get more accurate answers than if you ask for the 75 percent or 99 percent ranges," Prof. Ayres explained.

The Ayres-Brown family study is also testament to the fact that children can be collaborators on empirical social science; Anna and Henry were eight and ten-years-old respectively at the time they began the study in 2005.