Monday, March 3, 2014

Dancing Statistics

A still image from the project Communicating Psychology to the Public through Dance, produced by Lucy Irving, Elise Phillips, and Andy Field supported by the British Psychological Association and IdeasTap. Four videos: my favorite Frequency Distributions, Sampling and Standard Error, Variance, and Correlation.

In this image from the first of the videos the dancers start our in one large unorganized group, some dancing with very slow movements, some with very quick movements, and as one would then expect more with movements of a more intermediate speed. As they dance they sort themselves out, from the slower movement dancers on the left, to the more rapidly moving dancers on the right, building up a sample from a bell-shaped distribution. Very clever.

There is a video about correlation with dancers performing the same movements together or nearly opposite movements together. As they mention in the text of the video, these movements are just co-occurrences, one does not cause the other: correlation is not causation.

There is a video about variation with dancers performing variations on the same set of movements.

Another is about sampling and standard error. In this dance, a single blue-shirted dancer performs his movements to indicate the four corners of a rectangle. He and the rectangle defined by his  movements are termed the population. Then several red-shirted dancers mark four corners in their own styles producing various quadrilaterals that estimate the rectangular shape of the blue-shirted dancer.

I do think calling that initial, single blue-shirted dancer a population could be misleading, especially since at the beginning of this video the text mentions "a large group (a population)". This, of course, is the usual view: the large group is the population from which we observe samples to estimate it. But perhaps better, in this setting, would be to talk more generally about a statistical model. This is a model for a dancer's movements. These movements depend on the physical aspects of the dancer: height, limb length, reach, flexibility, etc. They also depend on artistic intent, style, technique, etc.

The blue-shirted dancer specifies the results of a certain collection of all of these aspects. This becomes a parameter, a target. The red-shirted dancers sample from the model of movements to estimate this parameter. The variety and range of their movements display the sampling variability as they attempt to match the governing shape (parameter) of the blue-shirted dancer. This view is more general than the viewing of sampling as from a fixed large group population.

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