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11: Normal Distribution

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    Most high schools have a set amount of time in-between classes during which students must get to their next class. If you were to stand at the door of your statistics class and watch the students coming in, think about how the students would enter. Usually, one or two students enter early, then more students come in, then a large group of students enter, and finally, the number of students entering decreases again, with one or two students barely making it on time, or perhaps even coming in late!

    Now consider this. Have you ever popped popcorn in a microwave? Think about what happens in terms of the rate at which the kernels pop. For the first few minutes, nothing happens, and then, after a while, a few kernels start popping. This rate increases to the point at which you hear most of the kernels popping, and then it gradually decreases again until just a kernel or two pops.

    Here’s something else to think about. Try measuring the height, shoe size, or the width of the hands of the students in your class. In most situations, you will probably find that there are a couple of students with very low measurements and a couple with very high measurements, with the majority of students centered on a particular value.


    All of these examples show a typical pattern that seems to be a part of many real-life phenomena. In statistics, because this pattern is so pervasive, it seems to fit to call it normal, or more formally, the normal distribution. The normal distribution is an extremely important concept, because it occurs so often in the data we collect from the natural world, as well as in many of the more theoretical ideas that are the foundation of statistics. This chapter explores the details of the normal distribution.

    • 11.1: The Standard Normal Probability Distribution
      When graphing the data from each of the examples in the introduction, the distributions from each of these situations would be mound-shaped and mostly symmetric. A normal distribution is a perfectly symmetric, mound-shaped distribution. It is commonly referred to the as a normal curve, or bell curve. Because so many real data sets closely approximate a normal distribution, we can use the idealized normal curve to learn a great deal about such data.
    • 11.2: The Density Curve of a Normal Distribution
      In this section, we will continue our investigation of normal distributions to include density curves and learn various methods for calculating probabilities from the normal density curve. A density curve is an idealized representation of a distribution in which the area under the curve is defined to be 1. Density curves need not be normal, but the normal density curve will be the most useful to us.
    • 11.3: Application of Normal Distributions
      The normal distribution is the foundation for statistical inference and will be an essential part of many of those topics in later chapters. In the meantime, this section will cover some of the types of questions that can be answered using the properties of a normal distribution. The first examples deal with more theoretical questions that will help you master basic understandings and computational skills, while the later problems will provide examples with real data, or at least a real context.
    • 11.4: The Central Limit Theorem
      In a population whose distribution may be known or unknown, if the size (n) of samples is sufficiently large, the distribution of the sample means will be approximately normal. The mean of the sample means will equal the population mean. The standard deviation of the distribution of the sample means, called the standard error of the mean, is equal to the population standard deviation divided by the square root of the sample size (n).
    • 11.5: Exercises
      This page contains 14 exercise problems related to the material from Chapter 11.

    This page titled 11: Normal Distribution is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Darlene Diaz (ASCCC Open Educational Resources Initiative) via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.