Inference by eye: confidence intervals and how to read pictures of data

Am Psychol. 2005 Feb-Mar;60(2):170-80. doi: 10.1037/0003-066X.60.2.170.


Wider use in psychology of confidence intervals (CIs), especially as error bars in figures, is a desirable development. However, psychologists seldom use CIs and may not understand them well. The authors discuss the interpretation of figures with error bars and analyze the relationship between CIs and statistical significance testing. They propose 7 rules of eye to guide the inferential use of figures with error bars. These include general principles: Seek bars that relate directly to effects of interest, be sensitive to experimental design, and interpret the intervals. They also include guidelines for inferential interpretation of the overlap of CIs on independent group means. Wider use of interval estimation in psychology has the potential to improve research communication substantially.

MeSH terms

  • Confidence Intervals*
  • Humans