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Representative Sample in Psychology: Definition & Example

Representative Sample in Psychology: Definition & Example
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  • 0:05 A Problematic Study
  • 0:49 Representative Sample Defined
  • 1:38 Examples
  • 3:10 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Orin Davis
A representative sample is drawn from a population of interest and has demographics and characteristics that match those of the population in as many ways as possible.

A Problematic Study

Suppose you had a friend that did a study of intelligence, and found that 9 out 10 people are super geniuses. Between your peals of laughter, you would probably think that he must have been the odd one out! Obviously, his study had a problem with it, but what is the problem, exactly?

You might think that it is because his sample only had 10 people, but if he grabbed 10 people at random, what are the odds that 9 of them would be super geniuses? Suppose further that the results of his study were based on a sample of 100 people. 90 super geniuses in a group of 100 - pretty impressive, and clearly proves the study's problem, right?

Not if his sample is Fields Medal winners and Nobel Laureates! (Now you are wondering about the other 10, aren't you?)

Einstein

Representative Sample Defined

The reason why his study is invalid is because the sample he chose did not represent the population to which he is applying the findings. If he was saying that 9 out of 10 Fields Medal winners and Nobel Laureates are super geniuses, that finding might make sense. But, if he tried to apply those results to the regular population, you would counter that he does not have a representative sample of the general population. That is, the characteristics of the sample he chose do not match those of the group at large, so the sample does not represent the group well.

Whenever you want to study a small group and generalize from the small group to the larger one, you need to make sure that the small group is just like the larger one. Otherwise, one of the differences between the makeup of the groups could also explain any qualitative differences between the groups.

Examples

Basketball

Let's take a look at a couple of examples.

Example 1:

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