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Probability Distributions I

Probability Distributions I
Jozef Hvorecky
Vysok kola manamentu / City University
Bratislava, Slovakia


High school or university students with basic knowledge in Mathematics.


To understand the notion of probability distribution and its importance for statistical
evaluations. To use the calculators built-in spreadsheet tool to make elementary
statistical evaluations for real-life problems and estimate the type of the probability
distribution of the observed event.

Corresponding eActivity

S07NORM.g1e (for Activity1), S07POIS.g1e (for Activity2)


We will see that real-life events expressed by (seemingly random) measured values are
not fully random. We will introduce the most frequent probability distributions.


1. Some exercises are placed inside eActivities presuming that they are solved in
classrooms. Students are recommended to discuss their solutions with their teacher and
2. The solutions to exercises are also included in eActivities.
3. Some snapshots of the calculator display have bee processed by a text editor to
present more data than a regular display can show.
Here we describe two activities. For their mathematical background refer for example to
[LM], page 151-181.

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Probability Distributions I

Activity 1 (S07NORM.g1e):
The article random may also mean a certain deviation from uniformity. When we see a
group of five people, we register differences in their height and weight rather strongly. At
the same time, a group of five children is apparently shorter than a group of five adults.
So there is something in common shared by all members of the group. This shared
feature of five people one can characterize it as a probability distribution. In our example,
the mean of adult group is likely greater than the mean of the childrens group.


Exercise 1.
Ask your classmates to report their height. Create 10 height groups, each covering 5 cm
interval from the mean. (for example, if the mean is 170 cm, the groups would go from
less than 150 to more than 190 cm). For each group, count the number of people
having the particular height. Type the results into a spreadsheet table (also called the
frequency table as it shows the frequencies of the students having the same height).
Graph them. (In the U.S.A., use 2 inch intervals).
Exercise 1
The real form of the graph depends on the people in your class but, in general, the values
near the mean should be the most frequent; the values near both ends should be rather
[Note] Your drawing will likely be slightly different from the below one but its main
characteristics will be similar most frequent results near the middle, less frequents at
both ends.

Fix the range of the cells of your graph in the eActivity of Exercise 1 so that the graph1
will show similar to the one you have above. Depending on real measures of your
classmates set up the values of Ymin and Ymax.
(a) (Refer to Normal Distrib) The ideal shape of similar behavior of real object is
expressed by the function called the normal distribution.
Press y (DIST meaning distributions) and then q (NORM for normal distribution).
Again press q (Npd for Normal probability distribution).

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Probability Distributions I

The display now shows meaning of each item. The variable x stands for data, for their
standard deviation, for their mean. Move the cursor down to Execute and press u
(DRAW). For =1 and = 0, the graph of the function looks as follows:

Changing and results in different shapes of the function of normal distribution see
Exercises 3 and 4. Its formula is

f ( x) =


( x )2
2 2

Notice that the curve is symmetric to the both side of . As it expresses distribution of
probability, the mean (and near values) are the most probable. The more distant values
are less and probable to be found. This corresponds to our daily experience in common
population, extremely short and extremely tall people are rare.


Exercise 2.
Calculate the standard deviation and the mean for your class height values. Draw the
graph by setting up appropriate values to the STAT tool.
Exercise 3.
In a stepwise manner, change the value of . What are the effects of its changes?
Exercise 4.
In a stepwise manner, change the value of . What are the effects of its changes?
Exercise 2
Select STAT from the main menu. After entering it, press F5, then F1 and again F1.
Assign your values to the mean and standard deviation. Move cursor to execute and then
select F6 (DRAW).

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Probability Distributions I

[Hint] Do not forget to set up the appropriate intervals of displayed values using
V-Window. In general, the interval of x should be symmetric around . The
recommended values of x belong to the interval (3, + 3).
Exercise 3.
Every change of moves the most probable values to the left or to the right in such a
manner that the mean always remains the most probable value among all.
Exercise 4.
The growth of increases the interval of probable values and the curve becomes flat. The
smaller is, the steeper the curve will be - because the interval of values with high
probability becomes narrower.
Activity 1 (S07POIS.g1e):
(a) (Refer to # of Children) The normal distribution is not the sole probability distribution.
There are many others. Another frequent one is the Poisson distribution. For example,
the number of children in families follows this distribution. Try to recall all families that
you know (regardless whether they have children or not) and form a table. Draw a
scattered graph of it.

The real figures vary over countries (and even over regions in them), but always keep the
similar shape. The curve grows toward the mean because the families with average
number of children are most frequent. In the picture, families with 1-2 children are likely
the most frequent in the place. Then the curve constantly falls. The probability of very
large values is very small, but never zero. (You have certainly heard about families with
18 or 23 children. Tabloids are occasionally reporting on them.)
(b) (Refer to Poisson Distrib) The function of the Poisson distribution is expressed by the

P ( x) =

x e

where x is the set of natural numbers (0, 1, 2, 3, ) and is the mean a nonnegative
number (possibly with decimal places).
Open the activity. The graph for =1.5 is displayed.

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Probability Distributions I

(c) (Refer to Changing Poisn) Poisson probability distributions differ depending on the
value of their mean . To view its influence, open the activity. It starts with the above
graph. Press d. Two value lists appear. List 1 contains the integers (the number of
occurrences e.g. the number of children); List 2 contains their probabilities. This means
that for =1.5, the probability of a family with 1 children is 0.3346 (i.e. approximately
1/3); the probability of a family with 3 children is 0.1255 (approximately 1/8).

To change the mean, press y (DIST), then uq (POISN), and again q (Ppd).

Change the value of to 2 and activate Execute by moving the cursor to it and pressing
l. The column with recalculated probabilities appears.

To graph the new list of probabilities, press the d key twice. Then q (GRPH) and again
q (GPH1). The new graph is drawn.

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S07-01- 5 -

Probability Distributions I


Exercise 1.
Change the value of the mean to 1.5, 2.3, 3, 4, 5. Draw the corresponding graphs.
What conclusions do you make about the Poisson probability distribution?
Exercise 2.
Ask your classmates about the number cars theirs families own. Make a table of
frequencies for no car in the family, one car, two cars etc. Draw a scattered graph
using a spreadsheet table. What is your estimated mean of cars per family?
Exercise 3.
Watch for one hour a near traffic lights. Count the number of cars passing the crossing it
at green in a particular direction. Register all the figures. After leaving the crossing,
calculate frequencies for each number of passing cars (0, 1, 2, 3, ). Draw a scattered
graph using a spreadsheet. What you can say about the probability distribution?
Exercise 4.
Make the evaluation from Exercise 3 at two crossings a busy one and a quiet one. What
are the differences in their graphs? What can you conclude on their probability
Exercise 1
With the growth of the mean, the probability of occurrence of bigger numbers grows
(with the maximum near the mean). In general, the curve connecting the points of the
scattered graph becomes flatter, its peak is lower and lower.
Exercise 2.
The mean is near the maximum value in the graph. Notice that such graphs may differ
not only from country to country but also between different town districts in the same
Exercise 3.
With our results, we can estimate the number of cars passing through the crossing at the
same time next day.
Exercise 4.
The mean of the busy crossing is located much further to the right (i.e. its is
substantially bigger).
[LM] Douglas A. Lind and Robert D. Mason, Basic Statistics for Business and Economics,
Irwin/McGraw-Hill, 1997. ISBN 0-256-19408-4

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