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3. Probability Distribution

Ways of Displaying Probability Distributions

Probability distributions can be shown in tables and graphs or they can also be described by a formula. For example, the binomial formula is used to calculate binomial probabilities.

The following table shows the probability distribution of a tomato packing plant receiving rotten tomatoes. Note that if you add all of the probabilities in the second row, they add up to 1 (.95 + .02 +.02 + 0.01 = 1).

probability distribution toms

The following graph shows a standard normal distribution, which is probably the most widely used probability distribution. The standard normal distribution is also known as the “bell curve.” Lots of natural phenomenon fit the bell curve, including heights, weights and IQ scores. The normal curve is a continuous probability distribution, so instead of adding up individual probabilities under the curve we say that the total area under the curve is 1.

In a normal distribution, the percentages of scores you can expect to find for any standard deviations from the mean are the same.

Note: Finding the area under a curve requires a little integral calculus, which you won’t get into in elementary statistics. Therefore, you’ll have to take a leap of faith and just accept that the area under the curve is 1!

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