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Dunn’s Test for Multiple Comparisons

by Erma Khan

A Kruskal-Wallis test is used to determine whether or not there is a statistically significant difference between the medians of three or more independent groups. It is considered to be the non-parametric equivalent of the One-Way ANOVA.

If the results of a Kruskal-Wallis test are statistically significant, then it’s appropriate to conduct Dunn’s Test to determine exactly which groups are different.

Dunn’s Test performs pairwise comparisons between each independent group and tells you which groups are statistically significantly different at some level of α.

For example, suppose a researcher wants to know whether three different drugs have different effects on back pain. He recruits 30 subjects for the study and randomly assigns them to use Drug A, Drug B, or Drug C for one month and then measures their back pain at the end of the month.

The researcher can perform a Kruskal-Wallis test to determine if the median back pain is equal among the three drugs. If the p-value of the Kruskal-Wallis test is below a certain threshold, it can be said that the three drugs produce different effects. 

Following this, the researcher could then perform Dunn’s Test to determine which drugs produce statistically significant effects.

Dunn’s Test: The Formula

You will likely never have to perform Dunn’s Test by hand since it can be performed using statistical software (like R, Python, Stata, SPSS, etc.) but the formula to calculate the z-test statistic for the difference between two groups is:

zi = yi / σi

where is one of the 1 to comparisons, yi =WA – WB (where WA is the average of the sum of the ranks for the ith group) and σi is calculated as:

σ=  √((N(N+1)/12) – (ΣT3s – Ts/(12(N-1)) / ((1/nA)+(1/nB))

where is the total number of observations across all groups, is the number of tied ranks, and Ts is the number of observations tied at the sth specific tied value.

How to Control the Family-wise Error Rate

Whenever we make multiple comparisons at once, it’s important that we control the family-wise error rate. One way to do so is to adjust the p-values that results from the multiple comparisons.

There are several ways to adjust the p-values, but the two most common adjustment methods are:

1. The Bonferroni Adjustment

Adjusted p-value = p*m


  • p: The original p-value
  • m: The total number of comparisons being made

2. The Sidak Adjustment

Adjusted p-value = 1 – (1-p)m


  • p: The original p-value
  • m: The total number of comparisons being made

By using one of these p-value adjustments, we can dramatically reduce the probability of committing a type I error among the set of multiple comparisons.

Additional Resources

How to Perform Dunn’s Test in R
How to Perform Dunn’s Test in Python

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