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Statistics LibreTexts

2.3: Important Ideas - Distribution, Central Tendency, and Variance

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    7893
  • Let’s introduce three important terms we will use a lot, distribution, central tendency, and variance. These terms are similar to their everyday meanings (although I suspect most people don’t say central tendency very often).

    Distribution. When you order something from Amazon, where does it come from, and how does it get to your place? That stuff comes from one of Amazon’s distribution centers. They distribute all sorts of things by spreading them around to your doorstep. “To Distribute”" is to spread something. Notice, the data in the histogram is distributed, or spread across the bins. We can also talk about a distribution as a noun. The histogram is a distribution of the frequency counts across the bins. Distributions are very, very, very, very, very important. They can have many different shapes. They can describe data, like in the histogram above. And as we will learn in later chapters, they can produce data. Many times we will be asking questions about where our data came from, and this usually means asking what kind of distribution could have created our data (more on that later.)

    Central Tendency is all about sameness: What is common about some numbers? For example, is there anything similar about all of the numbers in the histogram? Yes, we can say that most of them are near 0. There is a tendency for most of the numbers to be centered near 0. Notice we are being cautious about our generalization about the numbers. We are not saying they are all 0. We are saying there is a tendency for many of them to be near zero. There are lots of ways to talk about the central tendency of some numbers. There can even be more than one kind of tendency. For example, if lots of the numbers were around -1000, and a similar large amount of numbers were grouped around 1000, we could say there was two tendencies.

    Variance is all about differentness: What is different about some numbers?. For example, is there anything different about all of the numbers in the histogram? YES!!! The numbers are not all the same! When the numbers are not all the same, they must vary. So, the variance in the numbers refers to how the numbers are different. There are many ways to summarize the amount of variance in the numbers, and we discuss these very soon.

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