Another Warning About Median Reaction Time


  • Jeff Miller University of Otago



reaction time, power, means, medians, within-subjects comparisons


Contrary to the warning of Miller (1988), Rousselet and Wilcox (2020) argued that it is better to summarize each participant's single-trial reaction times (RTs) in a given condition with the median than with the mean when comparing the central tendencies of RT distributions across experimental conditions. They acknowledged that median RTs can produce inflated Type~I error rates when conditions differ in the number of trials tested, consistent with Miller's warning, but they showed that the bias responsible for this error rate inflation could be eliminated with a bootstrap bias correction technique. The present simulations extend their analysis by examining the power of bias-corrected medians to detect true experimental effects and by comparing this power with the power of analyses using means and regular medians. Unfortunately, although bias corrected medians solve the problem of inflated Type~I error rates, their power is lower than that of means or regular medians in many realistic situations. In addition, even when conditions do not differ in the number of trials tested, the power of tests (e.g., t-tests) is generally lower using medians rather than means as the summary measures. Thus, the present simulations demonstrate that summary means will often provide the most powerful test for differences between conditions, and they show what aspects of the RT distributions determine the size of the power advantage for means.


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