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Central tendency and dispersion

The central tendency of a distribution locates the "center" of a

distribution of values. The three major types of estimates of central
tendency are the mean, the median, and the mode.
The mean is the most commonly used method of describing central
tendency. To compute the mean, take the sum of the values and divide by
the count. For example, the mean quiz score is determined by summing all
the scores and dividing by the number of students taking the exam. For
example, consider the test score values
!", #$, #!, %&, !", #", !"
The sum of these ' values is !(', so the mean is !(')' * #$.
The median is the score found at the middle of the set of values, i.e.,
that has as many cases +ith a larger value as have a smaller value. ,ne
+ay to compute the median is to sort the values in numerical order, and
then locate the value in the middle of the list. For example, if there are
(-- values, the value in #"$th position is the median. .orting the /
scores above produces
!", !", !", #$, #!, #", #", %&
There are ' scores and score 0( represents the half+ay point. The
median is #$. 1f there are an even number of observations, then the
median is the mean of the t+o middle scores. 1n the example, if there
+ere an /th observation, +ith a value of #", the median becomes the
average of the (th and "th scores, in this case #$.".
The mode is the most frequently occurring value in the set. To determine
the mode, compute the distribution as above. The mode is the value +ith
the greatest frequency. 1n the example, the modal value !", occurs three
times. 1n some distributions there is a "tie" for the highest frequency,
i.e., there are multiple modal values. These are called multi2modal
3otice that the three measures typically produce different results. The
term "average" obscures the difference bet+een them and is better
avoided. The three values are equal if and only if the distribution is
perfectly "normal" 4i.e., bell2shaped5.
6ispersion is the spread of values around the central tendency. There are
t+o common measures of dispersion, the range and the standard
deviation. The range is simply the highest value minus the lo+est value. 1n
our example distribution, the high value is %& and the lo+ is !", so the
range is %& 7 !" * #!.
The standard deviation is a more accurate and detailed estimate of
dispersion because an outlier can greatly exaggerate the range 4as +as
true in this example +here the single outlier value of %& stands apart
from the rest of the values5. The standard deviation sho+s the relation
that set of scores has to the mean of the sample. 8gain let9s take the set
of scores
!", #$, #!, %&, !", #", !"
to compute the standard deviation, +e first find the distance bet+een
each value and the mean. :e kno+ from above that the mean is #$. .o,
the differences from the mean are
!" 7 #$ * 7"
#$ 7 #$ * 7$
#! 7 #$ * ;!
%& 7 #$ * !&
!" 7 #$ * 7"
#" 7 #$ * ;"
!" 7 #$ * 7"
3otice that values that are belo+ the mean have negative differences
and values above it have positive ones. 3ext, +e square each difference
* #"
* $
* !
* #"&
* #"
* #"
* #"
3o+, +e take these "squares" and sum them to get the sum of squares
4..5 value. <ere, the sum is %"'. 3ext, +e divide this sum by the number
of scores minus !. <ere, the result is %"' ) & * "-.". This value is kno+n
as the variance. To get the standard deviation, +e take the square root of
the variance 4remember that +e squared the deviations earlier5. This
+ould be ="-." * '.'!.
8lthough this computation may seem convoluted, it9s actually quite simple.
1n >nglish, +e can describe the standard deviation as
The square root of the sum of the squared deviations from the mean
divided by the number of scores minus one
The standard deviation allo+s us to reach some conclusions about specific
scores in our distribution. 8ssuming that the distribution of scores is
close to "normal", the follo+ing conclusions can be reached
approximately &/? of the scores in the sample fall +ithin
one standard deviation of the mean, about #)%
approximately -"? of the scores in the sample fall +ithin
t+o standard deviations of the mean
approximately --? of the scores in the sample fall +ithin
three standard deviations of the mean