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4.2: Experiments Having Equally Likely Outcomes

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    Equally likely means that each outcome of an experiment occurs with equal probability. For example, if you toss a fair, six-sided die, each face (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, or 6) is as likely to occur as any other face. If you toss a fair coin, a Head (\(\text{H}\)) and a Tail (\(\text{T}\)) are equally likely to occur. If you randomly guess the answer to a true/false question on an exam, you are equally likely to select a correct answer or an incorrect answer.

    To calculate the probability of an event A when all outcomes in the sample space are equally likely, count the number of outcomes for event \(\text{A}\) and divide by the total number of outcomes in the sample space. For example, if you toss a fair dime and a fair nickel, the sample space is \(\{\text{HH, TH, HT,TT}\}\) where \(\text{T} =\) tails and \(\text{H} =\) heads. The sample space has four outcomes. \(\text{A} =\) getting one head. There are two outcomes that meet this condition \(\text{\{HT, TH\}}\), so \(P(\text{A}) = \frac{2}{4} = 0.5\).

    Suppose you roll one fair six-sided die, with the numbers {1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6} on its faces. Let event \(\text{E} =\) rolling a number that is at least five. There are two outcomes {5, 6}. \(P(\text{E}) = \frac{2}{6}\). If you were to roll the die only a few times, you would not be surprised if your observed results did not match the probability. If you were to roll the die a very large number of times, you would expect that, overall, \(\frac{2}{6}\) of the rolls would result in an outcome of "at least five". You would not expect exactly \(\frac{2}{6}\). The long-term relative frequency of obtaining this result would approach the theoretical probability of \(\frac{2}{6}\) as the number of repetitions grows larger and larger.

    Definition: Law of Large Numbers

    This important characteristic of probability experiments is known as the law of large numbers which states that as the number of repetitions of an experiment is increased, the relative frequency obtained in the experiment tends to become closer and closer to the theoretical probability. Even though the outcomes do not happen according to any set pattern or order, overall, the long-term observed relative frequency will approach the theoretical probability. (The word empirical is often used instead of the word observed.)

    It is important to realize that in many situations, the outcomes are not equally likely. A coin or die may be unfair, or biased. Two math professors in Europe had their statistics students test the Belgian one Euro coin and discovered that in 250 trials, a head was obtained 56% of the time and a tail was obtained 44% of the time. The data seem to show that the coin is not a fair coin; more repetitions would be helpful to draw a more accurate conclusion about such bias. Some dice may be biased. Look at the dice in a game you have at home; the spots on each face are usually small holes carved out and then painted to make the spots visible. Your dice may or may not be biased; it is possible that the outcomes may be affected by the slight weight differences due to the different numbers of holes in the faces. Gambling casinos make a lot of money depending on outcomes from rolling dice, so casino dice are made differently to eliminate bias. Casino dice have flat faces; the holes are completely filled with paint having the same density as the material that the dice are made out of so that each face is equally likely to occur. Later we will learn techniques to use to work with probabilities for events that are not equally likely.

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    4.2: Experiments Having Equally Likely Outcomes is shared under a not declared license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.

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