Introduction to Sampling Distributions


David M. Lane


Distributions, Inferential Statistics

Learning Objectives
  1. Define inferential statistics
  2. Graph a probability distribution for the mean of a discrete variable
  3. Describe a sampling distribution in terms of "all possible outcomes."
  4. Describe a sampling distribution in terms of repeated sampling
  5. Describe the role of sampling distributions in inferential statistics
  6. Define the standard error of the mean

Suppose you randomly sampled 10 people from the population of women in Houston Texas between the ages of 21 and 35 years and computed the mean height of your sample. You would not expect your sample mean to be equal to the mean of all women in Houston. It might be somewhat lower or it might be somewhat higher, but it would not equal the population mean exactly. Similarly, if you took a second sample of 10 people from the same population, you would not expect the mean of this second sample to equal the mean of the first sample.

Sampling Distributions and Inferential Statistics

As we stated in the beginning of this chapter, sampling distributions are important for inferential statistics. In the examples given so far, a population was specified and the sampling distribution of the mean and the the range were determined. In practice, the process proceeds the other way: you collect sample data and, from these data you estimate parameters of the sampling distribution. This knowledge of the sampling distribution can be very useful. For example, knowing the degree to which means from different samples would differ from each other and from the population mean would give you a sense of how close your particular sample mean is likely to be to the population mean. Fortunately, this information is directly available from a sampling distribution.

The most common measure of how much sample means differ from each other is the standard deviation of the sampling distribution of the mean. This standard deviation is called the standard error of the mean. If all the sample means were very close to the population mean, then the standard error of the mean would be small. On the other hand, if the sample means varied considerably, then the standard error of the mean would be large.

To be specific, assume your sample mean were 125 and you estimated that the standard error of the mean were 5 (using a method shown in a later section). If you had a normal distribution, then it would be likely that your sample mean would be within 10 units of the population mean since most of a normal distribution is within two standard deviations of the mean.

Keep in mind that all statistics have sampling distributions, not just the mean. In later sections we will be discussing the sampling distribution of the variance, the sampling distribution of the difference between means, and the sampling distribution of Pearson's correlation, among others.

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