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DISCRETE RANDOM

VARIABLES AND THEIR

PROBABILITY

DISTRIBUTIONS

Opening Example

you’ve got $20 to spend on lunch today, are you willing to spend it all on

twenty $1 lotto tickets to increase your chances of winning? What if you

know that, depending on what state you are in, it could mean buying as

many as 18 million $1 tickets to cover all the possible combinations to

have a definite chance to win? (See Case Study 5–2.) How do we go

about determining the outcomes and probabilities in a lotto game?

RANDOM VARIABLES

Discrete Random Variable

Continuous Random Variable

Table 5.1 Frequency and Relative Frequency Distribution

of the Number of Vehicles Owned by Families

RANDOM VARIABLES

Definition

A random variable is a variable whose value is determined

by the outcome of a random experiment.

Discrete Random Variable

Definition

A random variable that assumes countable values is called a

discrete random variable.

Examples of discrete random variables

1. The number of cars sold at a dealership during a given

month

2. The number of houses in a certain block

3. The number of fish caught on a fishing trip

4. The number of complaints received at the office of an

airline on a given day

5. The number of customers who visit a bank during any

given hour

6. The number of heads obtained in three tosses of a coin

Continuous Random Variable

Definition

A random variable that can assume any value contained in

one or more intervals is called a continuous random

variable.

Continuous Random Variable

Examples of continuous random variables

2. The amount of milk in a gallon (note that we do not

expect “a gallon” to contain exactly one gallon of milk but

either slightly more or slightly less than one gallon)

3. The weight of a letter

4. The price of a house

PROBABLITY DISTRIBUTION OF A DISCRETE

RANDOM VARIABLE

Definition

The probability distribution of a discrete random

variable lists all the possible values that the random

variable can assume and their corresponding probabilities.

Example 5-1

Recall the frequency and relative frequency distributions of the

number of vehicles owned by families given in Table 5.1. That

table is reproduced below as Table 5.2. Let x be the number of

vehicles owned by a randomly selected family. Write the

probability distribution of x.

Table 5.2 Frequency and Relative Frequency Distributions

of the Number of Vehicles Owned by Families

Example 5-1: Solution

Two Characteristics of a Probability Distribution

The probability distribution of a discrete random variable

possesses the following two characteristics.

2. Σ P(x) = 1.

Figure 5.1 Graphical presentation of the probability

distribution of Table 5.3.

Example 5-4

According to a survey, 60% of all students at a large

university suffer from math anxiety. Two students are

randomly selected from this university. Let x denote the

number of students in this sample who suffer from math

anxiety. Develop the probability distribution of x.

Figure 5.3 Tree diagram.

Table 5.5 Probability Distribution of the Number of

Students with Math Anxiety in a Sample of Two Students

MEAN AMD STANDARD DEVIATION OF A

DISCRETE RANDOM VARIABLE

The mean of a discrete variable x is the value that is

expected to occur per repetition, on average, if an

experiment is repeated a large number of times. It is

denoted by µ and calculated as

µ = Σ x P(x)

expected value and is denoted by E(x); that is,

E(x) = Σ x P(x)

MEAN AND STANDARD DEVIATION OF A

DISCRETE RANDOM VARIABLE

The standard deviation of a discrete random variable

x measures the spread of its probability distribution and is

computed as

x P( x)

2 2

Example 5-5

Recall Example 5-3 of Section 5.2. The probability distribution

Table 5.4 from that example is reproduced below. In this

table, x represents the number of breakdowns for a machine

during a given week, and P(x) is the probability of the

corresponding value of x.

Example 5-5

machine.

Example 5-5: Solution

Table 5.6 Calculating the Mean for the Probability

Distribution of Breakdowns

MEAN AND STANDARD DEVIATION OF A

DISCRETE RANDOM VARIABLE

The standard deviation of a discrete random variable

x measures the spread of its probability distribution and is

computed as

x P( x)

2 2

Example 5-6

Baier’s Electronics manufactures computer parts that are

supplied to many computer companies. Despite the fact that

two quality control inspectors at Baier’s Electronics check

every part for defects before it is shipped to another

company, a few defective parts do pass through these

inspections undetected. Let x denote the number of defective

computer parts in a shipment of 400. The following table

gives the probability distribution of x.

Example 5-6

Example 5-6: Solution

Table 5.7 Computations to Find the Standard Deviation

Example 5-6: Solution

x 2P ( x ) 7.70

σ x 2

P x 2

7.70 (2.50) 2

1.45

1.204 defective computer parts

Example 5-7

Loraine Corporation is planning to market a new makeup

product. According to the analysis made by the financial

department of the company, it will earn an annual profit of

$4.5 million if this product has high sales and an annual profit

of $ 1.2 million if the sales are mediocre, and it will lose $2.3

million a year if the sales are low. The probabilities of these

three scenarios are .32, .51 and .17 respectively.

annum from this product by the company. Write the

probability distribution of x.

(b) Calculate the mean and the standard deviation of x.

Example 5-7: Solution

(a) The table below lists the probability distribution of x.

Note that because x denotes profits earned by the

company, the loss is written as a negative profit in the

table.

Example 5-7: Solution

(b) Table 5.8 shows all the calculations needed for the

computation of the mean and standard deviations of x.

σ x Px

2 2

8.1137 (1.661) 2

$2.314 million

Table 5.8 Computations to Find the Mean and Standard

Deviation

Home Work

1. The following table, represents the probability

distribution of the number of patients entering the

emergency room during a 1-hour period at a Hospital.

Patients

0 1 2 3 4 5 6

per hour

Probability 0.2725 0.3543 0.2303 0.0998 0.0324 0.0084 0.0023

this probability distribution.

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