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- Null and Alternative Hypotheses | Definitions & Examples

## Null & Alternative Hypotheses | Definitions, Templates & Examples

Published on May 6, 2022 by Shaun Turney . Revised on June 22, 2023.

The null and alternative hypotheses are two competing claims that researchers weigh evidence for and against using a statistical test :

- Null hypothesis ( H 0 ): There’s no effect in the population .
- Alternative hypothesis ( H a or H 1 ) : There’s an effect in the population.

## Table of contents

Answering your research question with hypotheses, what is a null hypothesis, what is an alternative hypothesis, similarities and differences between null and alternative hypotheses, how to write null and alternative hypotheses, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions.

The null and alternative hypotheses offer competing answers to your research question . When the research question asks “Does the independent variable affect the dependent variable?”:

- The null hypothesis ( H 0 ) answers “No, there’s no effect in the population.”
- The alternative hypothesis ( H a ) answers “Yes, there is an effect in the population.”

The null and alternative are always claims about the population. That’s because the goal of hypothesis testing is to make inferences about a population based on a sample . Often, we infer whether there’s an effect in the population by looking at differences between groups or relationships between variables in the sample. It’s critical for your research to write strong hypotheses .

You can use a statistical test to decide whether the evidence favors the null or alternative hypothesis. Each type of statistical test comes with a specific way of phrasing the null and alternative hypothesis. However, the hypotheses can also be phrased in a general way that applies to any test.

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The null hypothesis is the claim that there’s no effect in the population.

If the sample provides enough evidence against the claim that there’s no effect in the population ( p ≤ α), then we can reject the null hypothesis . Otherwise, we fail to reject the null hypothesis.

Although “fail to reject” may sound awkward, it’s the only wording that statisticians accept . Be careful not to say you “prove” or “accept” the null hypothesis.

Null hypotheses often include phrases such as “no effect,” “no difference,” or “no relationship.” When written in mathematical terms, they always include an equality (usually =, but sometimes ≥ or ≤).

You can never know with complete certainty whether there is an effect in the population. Some percentage of the time, your inference about the population will be incorrect. When you incorrectly reject the null hypothesis, it’s called a type I error . When you incorrectly fail to reject it, it’s a type II error.

## Examples of null hypotheses

The table below gives examples of research questions and null hypotheses. There’s always more than one way to answer a research question, but these null hypotheses can help you get started.

*Note that some researchers prefer to always write the null hypothesis in terms of “no effect” and “=”. It would be fine to say that daily meditation has no effect on the incidence of depression and p 1 = p 2 .

The alternative hypothesis ( H a ) is the other answer to your research question . It claims that there’s an effect in the population.

Often, your alternative hypothesis is the same as your research hypothesis. In other words, it’s the claim that you expect or hope will be true.

The alternative hypothesis is the complement to the null hypothesis. Null and alternative hypotheses are exhaustive, meaning that together they cover every possible outcome. They are also mutually exclusive, meaning that only one can be true at a time.

Alternative hypotheses often include phrases such as “an effect,” “a difference,” or “a relationship.” When alternative hypotheses are written in mathematical terms, they always include an inequality (usually ≠, but sometimes < or >). As with null hypotheses, there are many acceptable ways to phrase an alternative hypothesis.

## Examples of alternative hypotheses

The table below gives examples of research questions and alternative hypotheses to help you get started with formulating your own.

Null and alternative hypotheses are similar in some ways:

- They’re both answers to the research question.
- They both make claims about the population.
- They’re both evaluated by statistical tests.

However, there are important differences between the two types of hypotheses, summarized in the following table.

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To help you write your hypotheses, you can use the template sentences below. If you know which statistical test you’re going to use, you can use the test-specific template sentences. Otherwise, you can use the general template sentences.

## General template sentences

The only thing you need to know to use these general template sentences are your dependent and independent variables. To write your research question, null hypothesis, and alternative hypothesis, fill in the following sentences with your variables:

Does independent variable affect dependent variable ?

- Null hypothesis ( H 0 ): Independent variable does not affect dependent variable.
- Alternative hypothesis ( H a ): Independent variable affects dependent variable.

## Test-specific template sentences

Once you know the statistical test you’ll be using, you can write your hypotheses in a more precise and mathematical way specific to the test you chose. The table below provides template sentences for common statistical tests.

Note: The template sentences above assume that you’re performing one-tailed tests . One-tailed tests are appropriate for most studies.

If you want to know more about statistics , methodology , or research bias , make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples.

- Normal distribution
- Descriptive statistics
- Measures of central tendency
- Correlation coefficient

Methodology

- Cluster sampling
- Stratified sampling
- Types of interviews
- Cohort study
- Thematic analysis

Research bias

- Implicit bias
- Cognitive bias
- Survivorship bias
- Availability heuristic
- Nonresponse bias
- Regression to the mean

Hypothesis testing is a formal procedure for investigating our ideas about the world using statistics. It is used by scientists to test specific predictions, called hypotheses , by calculating how likely it is that a pattern or relationship between variables could have arisen by chance.

Null and alternative hypotheses are used in statistical hypothesis testing . The null hypothesis of a test always predicts no effect or no relationship between variables, while the alternative hypothesis states your research prediction of an effect or relationship.

The null hypothesis is often abbreviated as H 0 . When the null hypothesis is written using mathematical symbols, it always includes an equality symbol (usually =, but sometimes ≥ or ≤).

The alternative hypothesis is often abbreviated as H a or H 1 . When the alternative hypothesis is written using mathematical symbols, it always includes an inequality symbol (usually ≠, but sometimes < or >).

A research hypothesis is your proposed answer to your research question. The research hypothesis usually includes an explanation (“ x affects y because …”).

A statistical hypothesis, on the other hand, is a mathematical statement about a population parameter. Statistical hypotheses always come in pairs: the null and alternative hypotheses . In a well-designed study , the statistical hypotheses correspond logically to the research hypothesis.

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## Null Hypothesis Examples

The null hypothesis (H 0 ) is the hypothesis that states there is no statistical difference between two sample sets. In other words, it assumes the independent variable does not have an effect on the dependent variable in a scientific experiment .

The null hypothesis is the most powerful type of hypothesis in the scientific method because it’s the easiest one to test with a high confidence level using statistics. If the null hypothesis is accepted, then it’s evidence any observed differences between two experiment groups are due to random chance. If the null hypothesis is rejected, then it’s strong evidence there is a true difference between test sets or that the independent variable affects the dependent variable.

- The null hypothesis is a nullifiable hypothesis. A researcher seeks to reject it because this result strongly indicates observed differences are real and not just due to chance.
- The null hypothesis may be accepted or rejected, but not proven. There is always a level of confidence in the outcome.

## What Is the Null Hypothesis?

The null hypothesis is written as H 0 , which is read as H-zero, H-nought, or H-null. It is associated with another hypothesis, called the alternate or alternative hypothesis H A or H 1 . When the null hypothesis and alternate hypothesis are written mathematically, they cover all possible outcomes of an experiment.

An experimenter tests the null hypothesis with a statistical analysis called a significance test. The significance test determines the likelihood that the results of the test are not due to chance. Usually, a researcher uses a confidence level of 95% or 99% (p-value of 0.05 or 0.01). But, even if the confidence in the test is high, there is always a small chance the outcome is incorrect. This means you can’t prove a null hypothesis. It’s also a good reason why it’s important to repeat experiments.

## Exact and Inexact Null Hypothesis

The most common type of null hypothesis assumes no difference between two samples or groups or no measurable effect of a treatment. This is the exact hypothesis . If you’re asked to state a null hypothesis for a science class, this is the one to write. It is the easiest type of hypothesis to test and is the only one accepted for certain types of analysis. Examples include:

There is no difference between two groups H 0 : μ 1 = μ 2 (where H 0 = the null hypothesis, μ 1 = the mean of population 1, and μ 2 = the mean of population 2)

Both groups have value of 100 (or any number or quality) H 0 : μ = 100

However, sometimes a researcher may test an inexact hypothesis . This type of hypothesis specifies ranges or intervals. Examples include:

Recovery time from a treatment is the same or worse than a placebo: H 0 : μ ≥ placebo time

There is a 5% or less difference between two groups: H 0 : 95 ≤ μ ≤ 105

An inexact hypothesis offers “directionality” about a phenomenon. For example, an exact hypothesis can indicate whether or not a treatment has an effect, while an inexact hypothesis can tell whether an effect is positive of negative. However, an inexact hypothesis may be harder to test and some scientists and statisticians disagree about whether it’s a true null hypothesis .

## How to State the Null Hypothesis

To state the null hypothesis, first state what you expect the experiment to show. Then, rephrase the statement in a form that assumes there is no relationship between the variables or that a treatment has no effect.

Example: A researcher tests whether a new drug speeds recovery time from a certain disease. The average recovery time without treatment is 3 weeks.

- State the goal of the experiment: “I hope the average recovery time with the new drug will be less than 3 weeks.”
- Rephrase the hypothesis to assume the treatment has no effect: “If the drug doesn’t shorten recovery time, then the average time will be 3 weeks or longer.” Mathematically: H 0 : μ ≥ 3

This null hypothesis (inexact hypothesis) covers both the scenario in which the drug has no effect and the one in which the drugs makes the recovery time longer. The alternate hypothesis is that average recovery time will be less than three weeks:

H A : μ < 3

Of course, the researcher could test the no-effect hypothesis (exact null hypothesis): H 0 : μ = 3

The danger of testing this hypothesis is that rejecting it only implies the drug affected recovery time (not whether it made it better or worse). This is because the alternate hypothesis is:

H A : μ ≠ 3 (which includes μ <3 and μ >3)

Even though the no-effect null hypothesis yields less information, it’s used because it’s easier to test using statistics. Basically, testing whether something is unchanged/changed is easier than trying to quantify the nature of the change.

Remember, a researcher hopes to reject the null hypothesis because this supports the alternate hypothesis. Also, be sure the null and alternate hypothesis cover all outcomes. Finally, remember a simple true/false, equal/unequal, yes/no exact hypothesis is easier to test than a more complex inexact hypothesis.

- Adèr, H. J.; Mellenbergh, G. J. & Hand, D. J. (2007). Advising on Research Methods: A Consultant’s Companion . Huizen, The Netherlands: Johannes van Kessel Publishing. ISBN 978-90-79418-01-5 .
- Cox, D. R. (2006). Principles of Statistical Inference . Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-68567-2 .
- Everitt, Brian (1998). The Cambridge Dictionary of Statistics . Cambridge, UK New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0521593465.
- Weiss, Neil A. (1999). Introductory Statistics (5th ed.). ISBN 9780201598773.

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An example of the null hypothesis is that light color has no effect on plant growth. The null hypothesis (H 0) is the hypothesis that states there is no statistical difference between two sample sets. In other words, it assumes the independent variable does not have an effect on the dependent variable in a scientific experiment.

illustrates a null hypothesis. Designing Research Example 7.3 A Null Hypothesis An investigator might examine three types of reinforcement for children with autism: verbal cues, a reward, and no reinforcement. The investigator collects behavioral measures assessing social interaction of the children with their siblings. A null hypothesis might ...