Controlling the rate of Type I error over a large set of statistical tests

Br J Math Stat Psychol. 2002 May;55(Pt 1):27-39. doi: 10.1348/000711002159680.


When many tests of significance are examined in a research investigation with procedures that limit the probability of making at least one Type I error--the so-called familywise techniques of control--the likelihood of detecting effects can be very low. That is, when familywise error controlling methods are adopted to assess statistical significance, the size of the critical value that must be exceeded in order to obtain statistical significance can be extremely large when the number of tests to be examined is also very large. In our investigation we examined three methods for increasing the sensitivity to detect effects when family size is large: the false discovery rate of error control presented by Benjamini and Hochberg (1995), a modified false discovery rate presented by Benjamini and Hochberg (2000) which estimates the number of true null hypotheses prior to adopting false discovery rate control, and a familywise method modified to control the probability of committing two or more Type I errors in the family of tests examined--not one, as is the case with the usual familywise techniques. Our results indicated that the level of significance for the two or more familywise method of Type I error control varied with the testing scenario and needed to be set on occasion at values in excess of 0.15 in order to control the two or more rate at a reasonable value of 0.01. In addition, the false discovery rate methods typically resulted in substantially greater power to detect non-null effects even though their levels of significance were set at the standard 0.05 value. Accordingly, we recommend the Benjamini and Hochberg (1995, 2000) methods of Type I error control when the number of tests in the family is large.

MeSH terms

  • Achievement*
  • Humans
  • Models, Psychological*
  • Psychological Tests*