Null Hypothesis Testing: Examples, How to State, & When to Reject

A hypothesis is a tentative statement describing the relationship between two or more variables. It is a specific and testable prediction about what the researchers expect to happen in a study.

The research aims to determine whether this prediction is supported or rejected. A researcher can include many types of hypotheses in their study depending on what they are investigating and hoping to find. The null hypothesis is one type. Others include the simple hypothesis or the alternative hypothesis. 

What is a Null Hypothesis? 

The null hypothesis is the statement that a researcher or an investigator wants to disprove. The null hypothesis states that there is no relationship between the two variables that are being studied (i.e., one variable does not affect the other).

It states that there will be no changes in the dependent variable due to the manipulation of the independent variable. Testing the null hypothesis can tell you whether your results are due to the effects of manipulating ​the dependent variable or due to random chance. 

To summarize, the null hypothesis defines the condition that the researchers need to discredit before suggesting that an effect exists between two variables.

How to Write a Null Hypothesis

Null hypotheses (H0) start as research questions that the investigator rephrases as a statement indicating there is no effect or relationship.

To write a null hypothesis, first start by asking a question (i.e.“Does the vaccine prevent infections?”)

Rephrase that question in a form that assumes no relationship between the variables. Write your hypothesis in a way that reflects this (i.e. “The vaccine does not affect the infection rate”)

The null hypothesis is written as ​Ho (which is read as “H-nought,” “H-null,” or “H-zero”).

When written in mathematical terms, researchers will include an equality (usually =, but sometimes ≥ or ≤).

Examples of Null Hypotheses

Research QuestionNull Hypothesis
Do teenagers use cell phones more than adults?Teenagers and adults use cell phones the same amount.
Do tomato plants exhibit a higher rate of growth when planted in compost rather than in soil?Tomato plants show no difference in growth rates when planted in compost rather than soil.
Does daily meditation decrease the incidence of depression?Daily meditation does not decrease the incidence of depression.
Does daily exercise increase test performance?There is no relationship between daily exercise time and test performance.
Does the new vaccine prevent infections?The vaccine does not affect the infection rate.
Does flossing your teeth affect the number of cavities?Flossing your teeth has no effect on the number of cavities.

When Do We Reject The Null Hypothesis? 

If the collected data does not meet the expectation of the null hypothesis, a researcher can conclude that the data lacks sufficient evidence to back up the null hypothesis, and thus the null hypothesis is rejected. 

Rejecting the null hypothesis means that a relationship does exist between a set of variables and the effect is statistically significant (p > 0.05).

If the data collected from the random sample is not statistically significance, then the null hypothesis will be accepted, and the researchers can conclude that there is no relationship between the variables. 

You need to perform a statistical test on your data in order to evaluate how consistent it is with the null hypothesis. A p-value is one statistical measurement used to validate a hypothesis against observed data.

Calculating the p-value is a critical part of null-hypothesis significance testing because it quantifies how strongly the sample data contradicts the null hypothesis.

The level of statistical significance is often expressed as a p -value between 0 and 1. The smaller the p-value, the stronger the evidence that you should reject the null hypothesis.

Probability and statistical significance in ab testing. Statistical significance in a b experiments
The observed value is statistically significant (p ≤ 0.05), so the null hypothesis (N0) is rejected, and the alternative hypothesis (Ha) is accepted.

Usually, a researcher uses a confidence level of 95% or 99% (p-value of 0.05 or 0.01) as general guidelines to decide if you should reject or keep the null.

When your p-value is less than or equal to your significance level, you reject the null hypothesis.

In other words, smaller p-values are taken as stronger evidence against the null hypothesis. Conversely, when the p-value is greater than your significance level, you fail to reject the null hypothesis.

In this case, the sample data provides insufficient data to conclude that the effect exists in the population.

Because you can never know with complete certainty whether there is an effect in the population, your inferences about a population will sometimes 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 called a type II error.

Why Do We Never Accept the null hypothesis?

The reason we do not say “accept the null” is because we are always assuming the null hypothesis is true and then conducting a study to see if there is evidence against it. And, even if we don’t find evidence against it, a null hypothesis is not accepted.

A lack of evidence only means that you haven’t proven that something exists. It does not prove that something doesn’t exist. 

It is risky to conclude that the null hypothesis is true merely because we did not find evidence to reject it. It is always possible that researchers elsewhere have disproved the null hypothesis, so we cannot accept it as true, but instead, we state that we failed to reject the null. 

One can either reject the null hypothesis, or fail to reject it, but can never accept it.

Why Do We Use The Null Hypothesis?

We can never prove with 100% certainty that a hypothesis is true; We can only collect evidence that supports a theory. However, testing a hypothesis can set the stage for rejecting or accepting this hypothesis within a certain confidence level.

The null hypothesis is useful because it can tell us whether the results of our study are due to random chance or the manipulation of a variable (with a certain level of confidence).

A null hypothesis is rejected if the measured data is significantly unlikely to have occurred and a null hypothesis is accepted if the observed outcome is consistent with the position held by the null hypothesis.

Rejecting the null hypothesis sets the stage for further experimentation to see if a relationship between two variables exists. 

Hypothesis testing is a critical part of the scientific method as it helps decide whether the results of a research study support a particular theory about a given population. Hypothesis testing is a systematic way of backing up researchers’ predictions with statistical analysis.

It helps provide sufficient statistical evidence that either favors or rejects a certain hypothesis about the population parameter. 

Purpose of a Null Hypothesis 

  • The primary purpose of the null hypothesis is to disprove an assumption. 
  • Whether rejected or accepted, the null hypothesis can help further progress a theory in many scientific cases.
  • A null hypothesis can be used to ascertain how consistent the outcomes of multiple studies are.

Do you always need both a Null Hypothesis and an Alternative Hypothesis?

The null (H0) and alternative (Ha or H1) hypotheses are two competing claims that describe the effect of the independent variable on the dependent variable. They are mutually exclusive, which means that only one of the two hypotheses can be true. 

While the null hypothesis states that there is no effect in the population, an alternative hypothesis states that there is statistical significance between two variables. 

The goal of hypothesis testing is to make inferences about a population based on a sample. In order to undertake hypothesis testing, you must express your research hypothesis as a null and alternative hypothesis. Both hypotheses are required to cover every possible outcome of the study. 


What is the difference between a null hypothesis and an alternative hypothesis?

The alternative hypothesis is the complement to the null hypothesis. The null hypothesis states that there is no effect or no relationship between variables, while the alternative hypothesis claims that there is an effect or relationship in the population.

It is the claim that you expect or hope will be true. The null hypothesis and the alternative hypothesis are always mutually exclusive, meaning that only one can be true at a time.

What are some problems with the null hypothesis?

One major problem with the null hypothesis is that researchers typically will assume that accepting the null is a failure of the experiment. However, accepting or rejecting any hypothesis is a positive result. Even if the null is not refuted, the researchers will still learn something new.

Why can a null hypothesis not be accepted?

We can either reject or fail to reject a null hypothesis, but never accept it. If your test fails to detect an effect, this is not proof that the effect doesn’t exist. It just means that your sample did not have enough evidence to conclude that it exists.

We can’t accept a null hypothesis because a lack of evidence does not prove something that does not exist. Instead, we fail to reject it.

Failing to reject the null indicates that the sample did not provide sufficient enough evidence to conclude that an effect exists.

If the p-value is greater than the significance level, then you fail to reject the null hypothesis.

Is a null hypothesis directional or non-directional?

A hypothesis test can either contain an alternative directional hypothesis or a non-directional alternative hypothesis. A directional hypothesis is one that contains the less than (“<“) or greater than (“>”) sign.

A nondirectional hypothesis contains the not equal sign (“≠”).  However, a null hypothesis is neither directional nor non-directional.

A null hypothesis is a prediction that there will be no change, relationship, or difference between two variables.

The directional hypothesis or nondirectional hypothesis would then be considered alternative hypotheses to the null hypothesis.


Gill, J. (1999). The insignificance of null hypothesis significance testing. Political research quarterly52(3), 647-674.

Krueger, J. (2001). Null hypothesis significance testing: On the survival of a flawed method. American Psychologist56(1), 16.

Masson, M. E. (2011). A tutorial on a practical Bayesian alternative to null-hypothesis significance testing. Behavior research methods43, 679-690.

Nickerson, R. S. (2000). Null hypothesis significance testing: a review of an old and continuing controversy. Psychological methods5(2), 241.

Rozeboom, W. W. (1960). The fallacy of the null-hypothesis significance test. Psychological bulletin57(5), 416.

Saul Mcleod, PhD

BSc (Hons) Psychology, MRes, PhD, University of Manchester

Educator, Researcher

Saul Mcleod, Ph.D., is a qualified psychology teacher with over 18 years experience of working in further and higher education.

Julia Simkus

Research Assistant at Princeton University

Undergraduate at Princeton University

Julia Simkus is a Psychology student at Princeton University. She will graduate in May of 2023 and go on to pursue her doctorate in Clinical Psychology.