How to Calculate Spearman Rank Correlation in R

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Spearman’s Rank Correlation is a non-parametric measure used to gauge the strength and direction of the relationship between two variables. Unlike Pearson’s correlation, it does not assume that the data is from a normal distribution or that it is linear. It is particularly useful when dealing with ordinal data. This article will guide you through the steps to calculate Spearman’s Rank Correlation in R, including an introduction to the concept, applications, and practical examples.

Introduction to Spearman’s Rank Correlation

Spearman’s Rank Correlation, often denoted as rho (ρ), evaluates how well the relationship between two variables can be described using a monotonic function. A monotonic relationship is one where the variables either increase or decrease together, but not necessarily at a constant rate.

The Spearman’s Rank Correlation is computed as the Pearson correlation coefficient between the ranked variables. This makes it less sensitive to outliers compared to Pearson’s correlation.

Loading Data in R

The first step is to load the data. You can either use a built-in dataset or load your data from a CSV file.

# Using built-in dataset
mydata <- mtcars

# Or loading data from a CSV file
# mydata <- read.csv("path_to_your_file.csv")

Understanding the Data

Before calculating the Spearman Rank Correlation, it’s crucial to understand the data you’re working with. Use the head() function to have a glimpse at the data.

# Display the first few rows of the data

Calculating Spearman’s Rank Correlation in R

R provides a built-in function called cor() for calculating correlations. To compute the Spearman’s Rank Correlation, you need to specify the method as “spearman”.

# Calculate Spearman's Rank Correlation
spearman_rho <- cor(mydata$var1, mydata$var2, method="spearman")

# Output the result

In this example, replace var1 and var2 with the names of the columns you want to analyze.

Testing for Significance

To determine whether the calculated Spearman’s Rank Correlation is statistically significant, you can perform a hypothesis test using the cor.test() function.

# Perform hypothesis test
test_result <- cor.test(mydata$var1, mydata$var2, method="spearman")

# Output the test result

This will give you the correlation coefficient as well as the p-value, which you can use to determine statistical significance.

Plotting the Data

Visualizing the data can be insightful. You can create a scatter plot and add a regression line to see how the two variables relate.

# Load ggplot2

# Create a scatter plot
ggplot(mydata, aes(x=var1, y=var2)) +
  geom_point() +
  geom_smooth(method="lm") +
  labs(title="Scatter Plot with Regression Line")

Applications of Spearman’s Rank Correlation

Spearman’s Rank Correlation is widely used across various fields:

  1. Psychology: In psychology, it’s often used in test development and validation.
  2. Finance: In finance, Spearman’s Rank Correlation can help understand the relationship between different stocks or financial instruments.
  3. Medicine: In medical research, it’s used to analyze the relationship between various biological markers.
  4. Market Research: It is often used to analyze consumer preferences.

Interpretation of Results

The value of Spearman’s Rank Correlation ranges from -1 to 1. A value of 1 indicates a perfect positive relationship, -1 a perfect negative relationship, and 0 no relationship. The closer the coefficient is to 1 or -1, the stronger the relationship between the variables.


Spearman’s Rank Correlation is a robust, non-parametric measure of correlation that can be particularly useful when dealing with non-linear relationships or ordinal data. Understanding how to calculate and interpret this statistic in R can be a powerful tool for data analysis in various fields. Always remember to perform an initial data exploration and consider the context of your analysis when interpreting results.

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