How to Interpret Effect Sizes for Biopsychosocial Outcomes and Implications for Current Research

Scott D. Tagliaferri, Daniel L. Belavy, Bernadette M. Fitzgibbon, Steven J. Bowe, Clint T. Miller, Katja Ehrenbrusthoff, Patrick J. Owen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleOtherpeer-review


Biopsychosocial factors are associated with pain, but they can be difficult to compare. One way of comparing them is to use standardized mean differences. Previously, these effects sizes have been termed as small, medium, or large, if they are bigger than or equal to, respectively, .2, .5, or .8. These cut-offs are arbitrary and recent evidence showed that they need to be reconsidered. We argue it is necessary to determine cut-offs for each biopsychosocial factor. To achieve this, we propose 3 potential approaches: 1) examining, for each factor, how the effect size differs depending upon disease severity; 2) using an existing minimum clinically important difference to anchor the large effect size; and 3) define cut-offs by comparing data from people with and without pain. This is important for pain research, as exploring these methodologies has potential to improve comparability of biopsychosocial factors and lead to more directed treatments. We note assumptions and limitations of these methods that should also be considered. Perspective: Standardized mean differences can estimate effect sizes between groups and could theoretically allow for comparison of biopsychosocial factors. However, common thresholds to define effect sizes are arbitrary and likely differ based on outcome. We propose methods that could overcome this and be used to derive biopsychosocial outcome-specific effect sizes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)857-861
Number of pages5
JournalJournal of Pain
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2024


  • Biopsychosocial
  • Cohen
  • Hedges
  • Physical therapy
  • Standardized mean difference

Cite this