Understanding and interpreting confidence and credible intervals around effect estimates

Luiz Carlos Hespanhol Junior, Caio Sain Vallio, Bruno Tirotti Saragiotto, Lucíola Menezes Costa

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articleAcademicpeer-review


Introduction: Reporting confidence intervals in scientific articles is important and relevant for evidence-based practice. Clinicians should understand confidence intervals in order to determine if they can realistically expect results similar to those presented in research studies when they implement the scientific evidence in clinical practice. The aims of this masterclass are: (1) to discuss confidence intervals around effect estimates; (2) to understand confidence intervals estimation (frequentist and Bayesian approaches); and (3) to interpret such uncertainty measures. Content: Confidence intervals are measures of uncertainty around effect estimates. Interpretation of the frequentist 95% confidence interval: we can be 95% confident that the true (unknown) estimate would lie within the lower and upper limits of the interval, based on hypothesized repeats of the experiment. Many researchers and health professionals oversimplify the interpretation of the frequentist 95% confidence interval by dichotomizing it in statistically significant or non-statistically significant, hampering a proper discussion on the values, the width (precision) and the practical implications of such interval. Interpretation of the Bayesian 95% confidence interval (which is known as credible interval): there is a 95% probability that the true (unknown) estimate would lie within the interval, given the evidence provided by the observed data. Conclusions: The use and reporting of confidence intervals should be encouraged in all scientific articles. Clinicians should consider using the interpretation, relevance and applicability of confidence intervals in real-world decision-making. Training and education may enhance knowledge and skills related to estimating, understanding and interpreting uncertainty measures, reducing the barriers for their use under either frequentist or Bayesian approaches.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)290-301
Number of pages12
JournalBrazilian Journal of Physical Therapy
Issue number4
Early online date2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2019

Cite this