Behavioural studies are commonly plagued with data that violate the assumptions of parametric statistics. Consequently, classic nonparametric methods (e.g. rank tests) and novel distribution-free methods (e.g. randomization tests) have been used to a great extent by behaviourists. However, the robustness of such methods in terms of statistical power and type I error have seldom been evaluated. This probably reflects the fact that empirical methods, such as Monte Carlo approaches, are required to assess these concerns. In this study we show that analytical methods cannot always be used to evaluate the robustness of statistical tests, but rather Monte Carlo approaches must be employed. We detail empirical protocols for estimating power and type I error rates for parametric, nonparametric and randomization methods, and demonstrate their application for an analysis of variance and a regression/correlation analysis design. Together, this study provides a framework from which behaviourists can compare the reliability of different methods for data analysis, serving as a basis for selecting the most appropriate statistical test given the characteristics of data at hand. Copyright 2001 The Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour.