Assumptions of correlation coefficient, normality, homoscedasticity

An inspection of a scatterplot can give an impression of whether two variables are related and the direction of their relationship. But it alone is not sufficient to determine whether there is an association between two variables. The relationship depicted in the scatterplot needs to be described qualitatively. Descriptive statistics that express the degree of relation between two variables are called correlation coefficients. A commonly employed correlation coefficient for scores at the interval or ratio level of measurement is the Pearson product-moment correlation coefficient, or Pearsonís r.  

The Pearson's r is a descriptive statistic that describes the linear relationship between two or more variables, each measured for the same collection of individuals. An "individual" is not necessarily a person: it might be an automobile, a place, a family, a university, etc. For example, the two variables might be the heights of a man and of his son; there, the "individual" is the pair (father, son). Such pairs of measurements are called bivariate data. Observations of two or more variables per individual in general are called multivariate data. As with any sample of scores, the sample is drawn from a larger population of scores. 

The test for significance of Pearson's r assumes that a particular variable, X and another variable, Y, form a bivariate normal distribution in the population. A bivariate normal distribution possesses the following characteristics:

        The distribution of the X scores is normally distributed in the population sampled.

        The distribution of the Y scores is normally distributed in the population sampled.

        For each X score, the distribution of Y scores in the population is normal.

        For each Y score, the distribution of Y scores in the population is normal.                 

Assumption 1: The correlation coefficient r assumes that the two variables measured
form a bivariate normal distribution population.

 


Describing Scatterplots

One of the best tools for studying the association of two variables visually is the scatterplot or scatter diagram. It is especially helpful when the number of data is large---studying a list is then virtually hopeless. A scatterplot plots two measured variables against each other, for each individual. That is, the "x" (horizontal) coordinate of a point in a scatterplot is the value of one measurement of an individual, and the "y" (vertical) coordinate of that point is the other measurement of the same individual. We call such a plot a scatterplot of "y versus x" or "y against x." Here's an example of a scatterplot:

                                    

The red square in the middle of the scatterplot is the point of averages. The point of averages is a measure of the "center" of a scatterplot, quite analogous to the mean as a measure of the center of a list. 

Scatterplots let us see the relationships among variables. Does one variable tend to be larger when another is large? Does the relationship follow a straight line? Is the scatter in one variable the same, regardless of the value of the other variable?

 

Correlation and Association

Correlation is a measure of linear association: how nearly a scatterplot follows a straight line. We say that two variables are positively correlated if the scatterplot slopes upwards; they are negatively correlated if the scatterplot slopes downward. The correlation coefficient for a scatterplot of Y versus X is always the same as the correlation coefficient for a scatterplot of X versus Y. Note that linear association is not the only kind of association: some variables are nonlinearly associated. For example, the average monthly rainfall in Berkeley, CA, is associated with the month of the year, but that association is nonlinear: it is a seasonal variation that runs in cycles. Correlation does not measure nonlinear association, only linear association. The correlation coefficient is appropriate only for quantitative variables, not ordinal or categorical variables, even if their values are numerical.

Correlation is a measure of association, not causation. For example, the average height of people at maturity in the US has been increasing. Similarly, there is evidence that the number of plant species is decreasing with time. These two variables have a a negative correlation, but there is no (straightforward) causal connection between them. 

The correlation coefficient r is close to 1 if the data cluster tightly around a straight line that slopes up from left to right. The correlation coefficient is close to -1 if the data cluster tightly around a straight line that slopes down from left to right. If the data do not cluster around a straight line, the correlation coefficient r is close to zero, even if the variables have a strong nonlinear association. Here are some examples of  scatterplots that have specific values of the correlation coefficient r.

                                    

 

                                   

                                   


Linearity

The following scatterplot illustrates a linear relationship between the variables. The scatterplot is roughly football-shaped: the points do not lie exactly on a line, but are scattered more-or-less evenly around one. 

                                   


Nonlinearity

Some scatterplots show curved patterns. Such scatterplots are said to show nonlinear association between the two variables. The correlation coefficient does not reflect nonlinear relationships between variables, only linear ones. For example, even if the association is quite strong, if it is nonlinear, the correlation coefficient r can be small or zero:

                        

                

 

In this plot, the scatter in X for a given value of Y is very small, so the association is strong. Even though the association is perfect, because you can predict Y exactly from X, the correlation coefficient r is exactly zero. This is because the association is nonlinear

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In this scatterplot, the pattern in the relationship between the variables is not a straight line---it is curved. The data are scattered more-or-less evenly around a curve: the scatter in the values of Y is about the same for different values of X, that is, in different vertical "slices" through the scatterplot. The correlation coefficient is reasonably large (0.71), because there is an overall trend in the data. However, the correlation coefficient still does not show how strongly associated the variables are, because the pattern of their relationship is curved. The correlation coefficient is not a good summary of the association of these variables. 

Assumption 2: The correlation coefficient r measures only linear associations: how nearly the data
falls on a straight line. It is not a good summary of the association if the scatterplot has a nonlinear
(curved) pattern.




Homoscedasticity and Heteroscedasticity

Scatterplots in which the scatter in Y is about the same in different vertical slices are called homoscedastic (equal scatter). Data are homoscedastic if the SD in vertical slices through the scatterplot is about the same, regardless of where you take the slice. Homoscedastic means "same scatter." In contrast, if the vertical SD varies a great deal depending on where you take the slice through the scatterplot, the data are heteroscedastic. The SD is a measure of the scatter in the list. So far, all the plots in this section have been homoscedastic. The next scatterplot shows heteroscedasticity: the scatter in vertical slices depends on where you take the slice.



                                    

The scatter in a strip near the right of the plot is much larger than the scatter in a strip near the left of the plot. There is not much association between Y and X, but the correlation coefficient is still 0.15. This is an artifact of the heteroscedasticity.

Assumption 3: The correlation coefficient r is not a good summary of association if the data are heteroscedastic.

 

Outliers

A point that does not fit the overall pattern of the data, or that is many SDs from the bulk of the data, is called an outlier. A single outlier that is far from the point of averages can have a large effect on the correlation coefficient. Here are two extreme examples of scatterplots with a large outlier:  


                                              

                In the first, the outlier makes the correlation coefficient nearly one; without it, the correlation coefficient would be nearly zero.

 

 

                                  

            In the second, the outlier makes the correlation coefficient nearly zero; without it, the correlation coefficient would be nearly one.

Assumption 4: The correlation coefficient r is not a good summary of association if the data have outliers.