What are "Subjects?"

    I am a statistician, and from our perspective “subjects” is the most common term used to describe what objects or events were observed and measured or classified. Alternative terms include “cases,” “research units,” and “experimental units.” When tallied, the number of subjects is the sample size. While these may be people or other animals, they may also be manufactured parts on an assembly line, plots of land in an agricultural research station, petri dishes in a medical lab, vats of beer in Guinness’ brewery, celestial events, trash cans on a university campus, and so on.

    A while back I wrote up the results section of research examining the effectiveness of methods designed to reduce misbehavior of persons using computers in a university computer lab. The data were counts of the number of misbehaviors logged on each computer. Statistically speaking, the subjects were the computers. When we submitted the manuscript to a psychology journal, they took exception with our describing the subjects as computers in a lab.

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APA Style, "Subjects," and "Participants"

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This page most recently revised on 12-May-2017.