A meta-analysis is a statistical method that can be added to a systematic review. It uses the results from each study identified in the systematic review to "develop a single conclusion that has greater statistical power." (Himmelfarb Health Sciences Library, GWU)
It provides quantitative assessment of the relationship between two target variables or the effectiveness of an intervention.
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Increased Statistical Power
Social science studies often involve relatively small sample sizes, which can limit the ability to detect true effects or associations. Meta-analysis combines the results of multiple studies, increasing the overall sample size and statistical power, which can lead to more robust and reliable conclusions.
By pooling data from multiple studies, meta-analysis can provide a more comprehensive view of a research question. This can help researchers determine whether findings are consistent across different populations, settings, or times, improving the generalizability of the results.
It allows for the quantitative synthesis of research findings. Instead of relying on qualitative reviews, researchers can use statistical techniques to estimate the overall effect size, its confidence interval, and assess the heterogeneity of results across studies.
Clarifying Inconsistent Findings
Social science research often produces conflicting or contradictory results. Meta-analysis can help clarify these inconsistencies by systematically analyzing the existing literature to identify patterns, moderators, or sources of variation that might explain why studies produced different results.
It can provide more precise estimates of effect sizes and associations by reducing random error. This increased precision can help researchers make more informed decisions about the practical or theoretical significance of a particular finding.
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Davis J, Mengersen K, Bennett S, Mazerolle L. Viewing systematic reviews and meta-analysis in social research through different lenses. Springerplus. 2014 Sep 10;3:511. doi: 10.1186/2193-1801-3-511
Hennessy, E. A., Johnson, B. T., & Keenan, C. (2019). Best practice guidelines and essential methodological steps to conduct rigorous and systematic meta‐reviews. Applied Psychology: Health and Well‐Being, 11(3), 353-381
Mikolajewicz N, Komarova SV. (2019) Meta-Analytic Methodology for Basic Research: A Practical Guide. Front Physiol.;10:203. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2019.00203.
Hansen, C., Steinmetz, H. & Block, J. (2022) How to conduct a meta-analysis in eight steps: a practical guide. Manag Rev Q https://doi.org/10.1007/s11301-021-00247-4
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