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Mode (statistics)

Related subjects: Mathematics

Background Information

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In statistics, the mode is the value that occurs the most frequently in a data set or a probability distribution. In some fields, notably education, sample data are often called scores, and the sample mode is known as the modal score.

Like the statistical mean and the median, the mode is a way of capturing important information about a random variable or a population in a single quantity. The mode is in general different from mean and median, and may be very different for strongly skewed distributions.

The mode is not necessarily unique, since the same maximum frequency may be attained at different values. The worst case is given by so-called uniform distributions, in which all values are equally likely.

Mode of a probability distribution

The mode of a discrete probability distribution is the value x at which its probability mass function takes its maximum value. In other words, it is the value that is most likely to be sampled.

The mode of a continuous probability distribution is the value x at which its probability density function attains its maximum value, so, informally speaking, the mode is at the peak.

As noted above, the mode is not necessarily unique, since the probability mass function or probability density function may achieve its maximum value at several points x1, x2, etc.

When a probability density function has multiple local maxima, it is common to refer to all of the local maxima as modes of the distribution (even though the above definition implies that only global maxima are modes). Such a continuous distribution is called multimodal (as opposed to unimodal).

In symmetric unimodal distributions, such as the normal (or Gaussian) distribution (the distribution whose density function, when graphed, gives the famous "bell curve"), the mean (if defined), median and mode all coincide. For samples, if it is known that they are drawn from a symmetric distribution, the sample mean can be used as an estimate of the population mode.

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