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13. The Poisson Probability Distribution

Chapter Contents
Counting and Probability - Introduction
1. Factorial Notation
2. Basic Principles of Counting
3. Permutations
4. Combinations
5. Introduction to Probability Theory
6. Probability of an Event
Singapore TOTO
Probability and Poker
7. Conditional Probability
8. Independent and Dependent Events
9. Mutually Exclusive Events
10. Bayes Theorem
11. Probability Distributions - Concepts
12. Binomial Probability Distributions
13. Poisson Probability Distribution
14. Normal Probability Distribution
The z-Table
Counting and Probability Problem Solver
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The Poisson Distribution was developed by the French mathematician Simeon Denis Poisson in
The Poisson random variable satisfies the following conditions:
1. The number of successes in two disjoint time intervals is independent.
2. The probability of a success during a small time interval is proportional to the entire length
of the time interval.
Apart from disjoint time intervals, the Poisson random variable also applies to disjoint regions
of space.

the number of deaths by horse kicking in the Prussian army (first application)
birth defects and genetic mutations
rare diseases (like Leukemia, but not AIDS because it is infectious and so not
independent) - especially in legal cases
car accidents
traffic flow and ideal gap distance
number of typing errors on a page
hairs found in McDonald's hamburgers
spread of an endangered animal in Africa
failure of a machine in one month
The probabilit y dist ribut ion of a Poisson random variable X representing the number of
successes occurring in a given time interval or a specified region of space is given by the



e=2.71828 (but use your calculator's e button)
` =` mean number of successes in the given time interval or region of space

Mean and Variance of Poisson Distribution

If is the average number of successes occurring in a given time interval or region in the
Poisson distribution, then the mean and the variance of the Poisson distribution are both equal
to .

E(X) =


V(X) = 2 =

Note: In a Poisson distribution, only one parameter, is needed to determine the probability of
an event.

Example 1
A life insurance salesman sells on the average 3 life insurance policies per week. Use Poisson's
law to calculate the probability that in a given week he will sell
a. Some policies
b. 2 or more policies but less than 5 policies.
c. Assuming that there are 5 working days per week, what is the probability that in a given
day he will sell one policy?

Here, = 3
(a) "Some policies" means "1 or more policies". We can work this out by finding 1 minus the
"zero policies" probability:

P(X > 0) = 1 P(x0)

Now P(X)=exx! so P(x0)=e3300!=4.9787102

Therefore the probability of 1 or more policies is given by:
(b) The probability of selling 2 or more, but less than 5 policies is:
(c) Average number of policies sold per day: 35=0.6
So on a given day, P(X)=e0.6(0.6)11!=0.32929
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Example 2
Twenty sheets of aluminum alloy were examined for surface flaws. The frequency of the
number of sheets with a given number of flaws per sheet was as follows:
Number of f laws


What is the probability of finding a sheet chosen at random which contains 3 or more surface
The total number of flaws is given by:

(04)+(13) +(25)+(32) +(44)+(51) +(61) =46

So the average number of flaws for the 20 sheets is given by:


The required probability is:


Histogram of Probabilities
We can see the predicted probabilities for each of "No flaws", "1 flaw", "2 flaws", etc on this

[The histogram was obtained by graphing the following function for integer values of x only.


Then the horizontal axis was modified appropriately.]

Example 3
If electricity power failures occur according to a Poisson distribution with an average of 3
failures every twenty weeks, calculate the probability that there will not be more than one
failure during a particular week.
The average number of failures per week is: =320=0.15
"Not more than one failure" means we need to include the probabilities for "0 failures" plus "1
P(x0)+P(x1) =e0.150.1500!+e0.150.1511! =0.98981
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Example 4
Vehicles pass through a junction on a busy road at an average rate of 300 per hour.
a. Find the probability that none passes in a given minute.
b. What is the expected number passing in two minutes?
c. Find the probability that this expected number actually pass through in a given twominute period.
The average number of cars per minute is: =30060=5
(a) P(x0)=e5500!=6.7379103
(b) Expected number each 2 minutes = E(X) = 5 2 = 10
(c) Now, with = 10, we have: P(x10)=e10101010!=0.12511

Histogram of Probabilities
Based on the function


we can plot a histogram of the probabilities for the number of cars for each 2 minute period:

Example 5
A company makes electric motors. The probability an electric motor is defective is 0.01. What is
the probability that a sample of 300 electric motors will contain exactly 5 defective motors?
The average number of defectives in 300 motors is = 0.01 300 = 3
The probability of getting 5 defectives is:
NOTE: This problem looks similar to a binomial distribution problem, that we met in the last
If we do it using binomial, with n=300, x=5, p=0.01 and q=0.99, we get:

P(X = 5) = C(300,5)(0.01)5(0.99)295 = 0.10099

We see that the result is very similar. We can use binomial distribution to approximate Poisson
distribution (and vice-versa) under certain circumstances.

Histogram of Probabilities
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