The calculation of heart rate variability (HRV) is a popular tool used to investigate differences in cardiac autonomic control between population samples. When interpreting effect sizes to quantify the magnitude of group differences, researchers typically use Cohen’s guidelines of small (0.2), medium (0.5), and large (0.8) effects. However, these guidelines were originally proposed as a fallback for when the effect size distribution (ESD) was unknown. Despite the availability of effect sizes from hundreds of HRV studies, researchers still largely rely on Cohen’s guidelines to interpret effect sizes and to perform power analyses to calculate required sample sizes for future research. This article describes an ESD analysis of 297 HRV effect sizes from between-group/case-control studies, revealing that the 25th, 50th, and 75th effect size percentiles correspond with effect sizes of 0.26, 0.51, and 0.88, respectively. The analyses suggest that Cohen’s guidelines may underestimate the magnitude of small and large effect sizes and that HRV studies are generally underpowered. Therefore, to better reflect the observed ESD, effect sizes of 0.25, 0.5, and 0.9 should be interpreted as small, medium, and large effects (after rounding to the closest 0.05). Based on power calculations using the ESD, suggested sample sizes are also provided for planning suitably powered studies that are more likely to replicate. Researchers are encouraged to use the ESD data set or their own collected data sets in tandem with the provided analysis script to perform custom ESD and power analyses relevant to their specific research area.
Quintana, D.S. (2017). Statistical considerations for reporting and planning heart rate variability case-control studies. Psychophysiology, 54(3), 344–349.