What is a Type 2 Error?
A type 2 error (AKA Type II error) occurs when you fail to reject a false null hypothesis in a hypothesis test. In other words, a statistically non-significant test result indicates that a population effect does not exist when it actually does. A type 2 error is a false negative because the effect exists in the population, but the test doesn’t detect it in the sample.
In hypothesis testing, the null hypothesis typically posits the absence of an effect in the population. Therefore, failing to reject the null suggests that the effect does not exist.
By failing to reject a false null hypothesis, you incorrectly conclude that the effect does not exist when it does. Unfortunately, you’re unaware of this error at the time. You’re simply interpreting the results of your hypothesis test.
Type 2 errors can have profound implications. For example, a false negative in medical testing might mean overlooking an effective treatment. Recognizing and controlling these errors is crucial for sound statistical findings.
Related post: Hypothesis Testing Overview
Type 2 Error Example
Let’s illustrate this concept with an example of a type 2 error in practice. For our scenario, we’ll assume the effect exists — a detail typically unknown in real-world situations, hence the need for the study.
Imagine we’re testing a new drug that genuinely is effective. We conduct a study, gather data, and carry out the hypothesis test.
The hypotheses for this study are:
- Null: The drug has no effect in the population.
- Alternative: The drug is effective in the population.
Regrettably, this conclusion is incorrect because the drug is effective. The non-significant results lead us to believe the medication doesn’t work even though it is effective. It’s a false negative. A type 2 error has occurred, and we’re none the wiser!
Learn more about the Null Hypothesis.
Why Do They Occur?
Hypothesis tests employ sample data to make inferences about populations. Using random samples is beneficial as examining entire populations is often impractical.
However, relying on samples can introduce issues, including Type 2 errors. While random samples usually represent the population accurately, they can sometimes give a misleading picture and produce false negatives.
Consider flipping a coin. Occasionally, by sheer chance, you might get fewer heads than expected. Similarly, randomness can yield atypical samples that do not accurately portray the population.
However, unlike Type I errors, which primarily arise from random sampling error, Type 2 errors stem from various factors. These include sampling error but also small effects, small samples, and high data variability.
These conditions make it more difficult for a hypothesis test to use a sample to detect a population effect when one truly exists.
Probability of a Type 2 Error
While it’s impossible to identify when studies yield false negative results, we can estimate their rate of occurrence rate. Statisticians denote the probability of making a Type 2 error using the Greek letter beta (β). By designing your study effectively, you minimize the false negative rate.
The Type 2 error rate is the probability of a false negative. Therefore, 1 – β is the probability of correctly detecting an effect that exists. Statisticians call this the power of a hypothesis test. Analysts typically estimate power rather than beta itself.
Unlike Type I errors, you can’t set the Type 2 error rate for your analysis. Instead, analysts estimate the properties of the alternative hypothesis and enter them into statistical software to approximate statistical power. This process is known as power analysis.
A crucial benefit of hypothesis testing is that when the null hypothesis is false because an effect exists in the population, researchers can design a study with a low false negative rate and high statistical power. This process lends credibility to the results because the study has a low probability of producing a false negative.
Related post: What is Power in Statistics?
Minimizing False Negatives
Analysts can’t wholly avoid Type 2 errors, but increasing statistical power can lessen their likelihood. However, augmenting power usually requires spending more time and resources on the study. It’s a matter of balancing false negatives with the resources available for the analysis.
Reduced variability and larger effect sizes can lower the Type 2 error rate. Unfortunately, these aspects are frequently challenging for researchers to control because they are properties inherent to the population under study.
Generally, the aspect researchers can influence the most is sample size, making it the primary factor in regulating false negatives. Keeping all other aspects constant, increasing the sample size leads to a lower Type 2 error rate (β) and, correspondingly, higher statistical power (1 – β). Learn how to calculate the sample size for statistical power.
In hypothesis testing, understanding Type 2 errors is essential. They represent a false negative, where we fail to detect a significant effect that genuinely exists. By thoughtfully designing our studies, we can reduce the risk of these errors and make more informed statistical decisions.
Compare and contrast Type I vs. Type II Errors.
Acosta, Griselda; Smith, Eric; and Kreinovich, Vladik, “Why Area Under the Curve in Hypothesis Testing?” (2019). Departmental Technical Reports (CS). 1360.