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# Public Policy Boot Camp

## Math Lesson 6 Notes

Probability Distributions
A random variable is a mechanism that generates data. The probability distribution (also
marginal distribution if univariate) of the random variable describes the probabilities by which
the data are generated. From the probability distribution we can then infer the expectation
(weighted mean) and/or the variance of the distribution (also described as the expectation and/or
the variance of the random variable, respectively). Thus, understanding the most common
random variables and their probability distributions can save us significant time in solving the
most common probabilistic problems we encounter in our studies. In this lesson, we will discuss
discrete random variables, continuous random variables, and then joint and conditional
probability distributions.

Discrete Distributions
Discrete #1: The Bernoulli Distribution
The simplest discrete random variable is a Bernoulli random variable, which is used to model
experiments that can only succeed or fail. Examples include flipping a coin (and hoping for
heads), choosing a female from the population, observing a daily stock return of less than -3%,
observing a white car on El Camino Real, and so on. The Bernoulli random variable takes on
values 1 and 0 with probabilities p and 1 p, respectively. In general, in order to fully describe a
discrete random variable, we need to list the outcomes and the corresponding probabilities of
those outcomes, as we have just done with the Bernoulli. More formally, if X is a Bernoulli
random variable, then we write the following:

if x = 1
p
p
1
P ( X = x) =
or X =
1 p if x = 0
0 1 p
X denotes the random variable and x denotes the arbitrary value that X can take on. Collectively,
this description is called the probability distribution of the random variable X. A shorthand
notation is X ~ Bernoulli ( p ) . The ~ notation means is distributed as and is used generally
for other types of random variables as well. What does the probability look like? A histogram!
Imagine the example of a coin flipin this case the histogram will have two bins (heads and
tails) that will each have a relative frequency of 50% (or, for a sample, closer and closer to that
distribution as the sample size increases). This plot of probabilities against outcomes for discrete
random variables is also called a probability mass function.

## Discrete #2: The Binomial Distribution

The Bernoulli distribution is for a single trial. The probabilities expressed by this distribution
derive, of course, from many repetitions of this trial, but the end result is a description of the
probability of doing a success/fail experiment one time: flipping a coin once, etc. If we are
interested in the outcome of repeated Bernoulli experiments (for example, the probability of
flipping three heads in five tosses), then we can turn to the Binomial distribution. Another
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## Math Lesson 6 Notes

example could be describing how many people out of 100 vote for Obama over Romney (or vice
versa to be politically correct) when the (known) probability of voting for Obama is 0.40. This
latter probability of any individual vote would be described by a Bernoulli distribution, while the
former probability of how many out of all 100 vote for Obama would be described by a Binomial
distribution.
More formally and generally, the Binomial distribution describes the probabilities of x successes
out of n independent Bernoulli success/fail trials. If the random variable X describes the number
of successes, then the probability distribution of X is

n
nk
P ( X = k ) = p k (1 p )
k
n
n!
where =
and is spoken n choose k. The ! operator is the factorial operator,
k k !( n k ) !
and represents the product n ! = n ( n 1)( n 2 ) ... ( 2 )(1) . For example, 5! = 5 4 3 2 1 = 120 ,

## while 1! = 1 . By definition, 0! 1 as well. The choose or combination operator takes into

account the different orderings in which the successes and failures can happen; if we were
interested in the probability of a specific ordering (e.g. five successes followed by five failures in
a trial of ten repetitions), we would have a different formula (since there are more ways to
permute the number of successes than there are to just combine them; the permutation formula,
n!
is just
).
( n k )!
We say X ~ Binomial ( n, p ) .

## If you do some math, you will find that E ( X ) = np and

V ( X ) = np (1 p ) . Hopefully, these results make intuitive sense: we expect to get the same
proportion of successes as the probability of success in one trial would be, and we expect the
variance to depend on both the probability of success and the probability of failure, again scaled
up to the number of trials we run.
Example 6.1 Say Dirk Nowitzki, the 2011 Most Valuable Player of the National Basketball
Association, has a 90% chance of making any given free throw he takes. Say he takes ten free
throws in a row. What is the probability that he makes exactly five of those shots, and misses the
other five? What number of shots is he most likely to make?

10!
10 5
0.95 (1 0.9 ) = 252(0.59) (1105 ) = 0.15% . It makes
5!(10 5 ) !
sense that this shouldnt be very large, since this would represent making 50% of his shots when
he has a 90% chance of making any given shot. Intuitively, we can expect him to be most likely
to make 9 shots out of the 10; to actually prove this, wed have to find the probability of all 11
possible events (making 0 shots through making all 10). However, since the Binomial
probability distribution only has one peak, well check our intuition just by making sure that the
probability of making 10 shots and the probability of making 8 shots are both lower than the

Solution 6.1 P ( X = 5) =

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## probability of making 9 shots.

P ( X = 9) =

10!
10 9
0.99 (1 0.9 )
= 38.7% , while also
9!(10 9 ) !

10!
10!
10 10
108
0.910 (1 0.9 )
= 34.9%, P ( 8 ) =
0.98 (1 0.9 ) = 19.4%
10!(10 10 ) !
8!(10 8 ) !
so we can indeed say that he is most likely to make 9 of his 10 shots. It is not always the case
that the most likely outcome is related to the underlying parameter p in the same manner it is in
this case.
P ( X = 10 ) =

## Discrete #3: The Poisson Distribution

The Binomial distribution describes probabilities for successes in a certain number of trials. In
contrast, the Poisson distribution applies to successes over a time period or an area. For
example, we could model the probability that a biotechnology firm files for a vaccination patent
in some time interval with a Poisson distribution. Poisson distributions can be useful in
regression analysis when the dependent variable (the modeled variable) is a count variable.

## Characteristics of Discrete Random Variables

Aside from the probabilities and the distribution, we are interested in certain characteristics of
the random variable. For example, what is the central tendency of the random variable? What
lesson about descriptive statistics, only now we are going to compute them for a particular
random variable. No data will be involved because these are population characteristics. Earlier
we talked about the difference between population and sample characteristics. In the case of a
random variable, the expectation E ( X ) (a.k.a. mean or average) and variance Var ( X ) or

V ( X ) are considered population or true characteristics, rather than estimates such as x and s 2 .
Additionally, when computing the expectation or variance, it is usually a good idea notationally
to write what distribution the expectation or variance is taken with respect to, i.e. E X ( X ) rather
than just E(X). In these notes it should always be clear what distribution the variance or
expectation is taken with respect to and so we omit the subscript for now. However, it may be
good to keep this in mind if you start dealing with complex expressions and many random
variables.
Lets assume that our random variable X has the general discrete probability distribution
p1 if
p if

P ( X = x) = 2

pn if

x = x1
x = x2

where

=1

i =1

x = xn

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n

= 1 . Note that,

i =1
n

i =1

n

i =1

## Example 6.2 If X ~ Bernoulli ( 0.8) , what is E ( X ) ?

Solution 6.2 In a Bernoulli distribution, the random variable can only take on the values 0 and 1.
So we have E ( X ) = 0.2 ( 0 ) + 0.8 (1) = 0.8 . We can see that, in general for a Bernoulli random
variable, the expectation is p.
Example 6.3 Let X be the random variable describing how many students in the boot camp are
sleeping (or, at least, their eyes are getting droopy) at any one time after lunch:

0.8 if

P ( X = x ) = 0.1 if
0.1 if

x=0
x =1
x=2

## What is the expected value of sleeping students?

Solution 6.3 E ( X ) = 0 ( 0.8) + 1( 0.1) + 2 ( 0.1) = 0.3 . Note that even though the random variable
is discrete and can only take on the values 0, 1, and 2, the expected value is continuous and can
take on any value in that range.
The expectation operator E (

) is a linear operator.

## In general, E ( XY ) E ( X ) E (Y ) . In fact, as we will see later, this relationship would

only be true if the two variables had a correlation of exactly zero.

We call E ( X ) the first moment of the distribution (or of the random variable). More generally,
n

E ( X k ) = pi xik is called the kth moment. Note that we have taken the outcomes to the kth
i =1

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## Math Lesson 6 Notes

power inside the sum, but not the probabilities. Even more generally, for any continuous
n

function g ( x ) , E ( g ( X ) ) = pi g ( xi ) .
i =1

Just as we can define the expected value of a discrete random variable, we can define the
variance as well. Remember that in the case of descriptive statistics, the variance was the
average squared deviation from the mean. The current context is no different. Thus, the
variance of a discrete random variable X is defined as V ( X ) = E X E ( X )
2

{E X E ( X )} ).

( )

(and NOT
2

## Again, a convenient shortcut formula is V ( X ) = E X 2 E ( X ) .

Example 6.4 What is the variance of our sleepy-time distribution from Example 6.3?

( )

## Solution 6.4 V ( X ) = E X 2 E ( X ) = 02 ( 0.8 ) + 12 ( 0.1) + 22 ( 0.1) ( 0.3) = 0.41 . Recall, of

course, that the more meaningful measure of spread is the standard deviation. Thats not
difficult to find, however, since it is just SD ( X ) = V ( X ) = 0.41 = 0.64 .
Just as we defined properties of the expectation, we can do so for the variance operator V (

## V ( aX + b ) = a 2V ( X ) (additive constants disappear, since they have no variance)

V ( aX bY ) = a 2V ( X ) + b 2V (Y ) 2ab cov( X , Y )

):

These last property can easily be generalized for sums of more than two random variables.
Essentially what you get is that the variance of a sum of random variables is the sum of the
variances, plus a bunch of covariance terms. Showing that any of these properties is true is not
difficult; all you need is the definition of variance and a little patience with algebra.
By now you may be able to see that E ( X ) tells us something about the mean of a distribution
and E ( X 2 ) tells us something about the variance. As it turns out, for particular probability
distributions, E ( X 3 ) tells us about the skewness of the distribution and E ( X 4 ) tells us about
the kurtosis (how fat the tails of the distribution are).
If, instead of E ( X ) , you wish to use the median as your measure of central tendency for a
discrete random variable, find the value that the random variable takes such that there is equal
0.5 probability of being greater than or less than that point. Depending on the number of values
that the random variable can take, this may not be a unique number. Formally, the median is
defined as the number M such that P ( X M ) 0.5 and P ( X M ) 0.5 . For example, M = 0
for our sleepy-time distribution from Example 6.3.

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## Math Lesson 6 Notes

Continuous Distributions
The primary difference between the properties of a continuous probability distribution and those
of a discrete distribution is that the continuous case requires a little calculus. Recall that the
continuous analogue of a histogram is a probability density function, f ( x ) , where

f ( x ) 0 for all x (that is, every value of x has at least zero probability of occurring), and

## f ( x ) dx = 1 (that is, all the probabilities add up to one).

These should seem intuitive because, with the histogram (or, more formally, the probability mass
function (pmf)) in the discrete case, the y-axis was relative frequency of occurrence. In the
continuous world, it is actually the area under the probability density function over an interval on
b

the x-axis that corresponds to a probability. For example, P ( a < X < b ) = f ( x ) dx . Note that
a

this

means

that

the

probability

of

being

at

exactly

one

infinitesimal

point,

## P ( X = a ) = f ( x ) dx = 0 in the continuous case.

a

x 0 x 2
Example 6.5 Verify that f ( x ) =
is a probability density function.
0 otherwise
Solution 6.5 We can see by inspection that this function is always above the x-axis. The more
interesting question is the area under the function:

f ( x ) dx =

1
xdx = x 2 = 1 0 = 1
2 0

We could have also checked this geometrically since, by inspection, the density function is a
triangle. As a result, notice that the distribution is skewed right.
An alternative to the probability density function (often abbreviated pdf) is the cumulative
distribution function (often abbreviated cdf). The cdf, denoted by F ( x ) instead of the pdfs

## f ( x ) , is defined as F ( x0 ) = P ( X x0 ) . In other words, this function describes cumulative

probabilities: the cdf at any point is the probability that the random variable X takes on a value of
less than or equal to x0 . Additionally, it is related to the pdf by F '( x) = f ( x) . Though less
common, cdfs can be quite useful in certain cases. For example, the median M of a random
variable is easily found by solving F ( M ) = 1 F ( M ) = 0.5 .
With this background on probability and cumulative distribution functions, we can now proceed
to describe the most common continuous random variables, just as we did above with discrete
ones.

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## The uniform distribution is a simple example of a continuous probability distribution. The

height of the uniform distribution is constant; therefore, the probability that a random variable X
that is uniformly distributed takes on a value in some interval depends only on the length of the
interval itself:
1
if a < x < b

f ( x) = b a
0
otherwise
We can say a < X < b or a X b because P ( X = a ) = P ( X = b ) = 0 , so P ( a < X < b )

## = P ( a X b ) . If X is uniformly distributed between two points a and b, we write X ~ U [ a, b]

While it may be simple, the uniform distribution is often applicable to real-world situations. For
example, it seems reasonable to assume that a random person in the world is equally likely to be
born at any particular time during the day in Pacific Standard Time, so the uniform distribution
may be a good choice for modeling that random variable.
Example 6.6 Suppose X ~ U [5,10] . What is P ( 6 < X < 7 ) ?
1
1
dx = ( 7 6 )
= 0.2 . Note that we could have also
6 10 5
10 5
just calculated the area of a rectangle in this case. But integration is so much more fun!

## Continuous #2: The Normal Distribution

The normal distribution is a famous continuous distribution that underlies much of statistical
inference and which is thought to be a good model for many phenomena in the real world.
Among other properties, it is bell-shaped and symmetric about its mean (which means that the
mean is the median and is located at the center of the distribution). If X is a normal random
variable with mean and variance 2 , then we denote this by writing X ~ N ( , 2 ) . The pdf
2
1
e ( x ) / 2 . Thus, finding probabilities with the normal
2
distribution involves some nasty integration. In fact, there is no closed form expression for the
cdf of the normal distribution. Thankfully, previous statisticians have gone ahead and performed
various calculations for us and so we can now look up values of the normal cdf in the normal
table (provided on the next pages) rather than having to integrate. There are just two problems:
the normal table only lists values for N ( 0,1) (called the standard normal distribution), so we
need to get our distribution into that form to make use of this shortcut, and the normal table only
lists cumulative probabilities P ( X < x ) = ( x ) .

## of the normal distribution is f ( x ) =

The second problem is not so hard to solve, noting that P ( x1 < X < x2 ) = P ( X < x2 ) P ( X < x1 )

## = ( x2 ) ( x1 ) and P ( X > x ) = P ( X < x ) = ( x ) due to the distributions symmetry. Also

by symmetry, ( x ) = 1 ( x ) , so we only need this table for 0 < x < (though we will
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## Math Lesson 6 Notes

provide you with a table for < x < ). Solving the first problem is slightly more involved,
and requires the use of a process known as standardization.
Standardization is the process by which we can convert our X ~ N ( , 2 ) to a Z ~ N ( 0,1) .
For this, we subtract off the mean and divide by the standard deviation, to find the z-score of a
x
point of interest x. Thus, the z-score of x is
, and,

## P (a < X < b) = P (a < X < b )

b
a
b
a
= P
<Z<
=

This works because the process of standardization preserves probabilities, allowing us to find a
probability on a N ( 5,9 ) distribution by finding it on N ( 0,1) instead, and because

X ~ N ( , 2 )

## Example 6.7 Suppose X ~ N ( 5,9 ) ; what is P ( X > 6 ) ?

Solution 6.7 Rather than integrate to find this probability, we will standardize and use the tables.
65
X 6

P ( X > 6) = P ( X > 6 ) = P
>
= PZ >
= P ( Z > 0.33) = 0.3707

3

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## Math Lesson 6 Notes

Normal variables have several other interesting properties. For example, when you scale a
normal variable (that is, you multiply it by a constant), the result is a normal variable whose
mean and variance are scaled accordingly: X ~ N ( , 2 ) X ~ N ( , 2 2 ) . Also, the sum
of two (or more) independent normal variables is normally distributed, with its mean the sum of
the means and its variance the sum of the variances (if the variables are not independent then the
variance also involves covariance terms, but the mean of the sum is still just the sum of the
individual means).
n

Example 6.8 Consider a series of random variables { X i }i =1 . Assume they are independent and
distributed according to X i ~ N ( , 2 ) . What is the probability distribution of X =

1 n
Xi ?
n i =1

n
2
1 n
n
2
2
~
,
~
,
~
X
N

N
n

X
=
X
N
(
)

i , n . This result,
i

n i =1
i =1
i =1 i =1

that the variance of a mean decreases with sample size, is a key result in statistical inference.
n

Solution 6.8

## Continuous #3: The Student t Distribution

Interestingly, the inventor of the Student t distribution invented it while working at the Guinness
Brewery in Dublin in 1908. He wasnt allowed to publish under his own name, so he published
under the name Student. The main parameter for the t-distribution is the degrees of freedom.
This sole number parameterizes the distribution (that is, it determines the distributions shape
and location). Think of the Student t distribution as the close sibling of the standard normal
distribution. Both are symmetric about the (zero) mean and both are used extensively in
hypothesis testing. In fact, as the degrees of freedom of the t distribution go to infinity, the t
distribution converges to the standard normal.

## Continuous #4: The F Distribution

The F distribution was invented by another anonymous brewmaster named F. Well, okay,
thats not actually true, but it would make these notes a lot more interesting! The F distribution
is NOT centered at zero like the t and the standard normal. Instead, the F distribution is defined
for positive x only and is skewed to the right. In similar fashion to the t distribution, the F is
parameterized by its degrees of freedom. The only difference is that the F has two sets of
degrees of freedom, called the numerator degrees of freedom and the denominator degrees of
freedom. This is because the ratio of two chi-squared distributions (defined next) is (roughly) F
distributed.

## Continuous #5: The

(Chi-squared) Distribution

The chi-squared distribution is similar to the F in that it is defined for positive x only and is
skewed to the right. It also is used frequently for particular types of statistical inference. The
most interesting aspect of the chi-squared distribution is that it is defined as the sum of
independent squared standard normal random variables, where the degrees of freedom are equal

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## Math Lesson 6 Notes

to the number of standard normal variables in the sum. That is, if Z ~ N ( 0,1) and we observe v
draws from Z, then Z12 + Z 22 + ... + Z v2 ~ v2 .

## Characteristics of Continuous Random Variables

Just like we did for discrete random variables, we want to calculate the expectation and variance
of continuous random variables. So, we will. The expectation of a continuous random variable

## X with probability density function f ( x ) is defined as E ( X ) = xf ( x ) dx .

Remember,

integration is a kind of sum (of areas of really narrow rectangles), so this is a logical progression

## Example 6.9 Find E ( X ) for the distribution in Example 6.5.

3

Solution 6.9 E ( X ) =

x3
2
x xdx = =
= 0.94 .
3
3 0

The variance of a continuous random variable is the exact same formula as the variance for a
2

( )

## discrete random variable, V ( X ) = E X E ( X ) = E X 2 E ( X ) ; its just that now these

expectation operators make use of the continuous definition rather than the discrete one.

## Example 6.10 If X ~ U [ a, b] , what are E ( X ) and V ( X ) ?

b

Solution 6.10 E ( X ) =

x2
( b + a )( b a ) = b + a
x
b2 a2
dx =
=
=
ba
2 (b a )
2
2 (b a ) a 2 (b a )
b

E(X

)=

2
2
x3
x2
b3 a 3 ( b + ab + a ) ( b a ) b 2 + ab + a 2
dx =
=
=
=
ba
3(b a )
3
3(b a ) a 3 (b a )

b 2 + ab + a 2 ( b + a )
V ( X ) = E ( X ) E ( X ) =

3
4
2

=

=
=
12
12
12
12

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## Math Lesson 6 Notes

2

Solution 6.11 E ( X

)=

all x

x f ( x ) dx =
2

x4
x xdx = = 1
4 0
2

V ( X ) = E ( X 2 ) E ( X ) = 1 ( 0.94 ) = 0.116
Finally, since the median is the middle number, then that must mean that half of the probability
in the distribution is on one side of the median and half of the probability in the distribution is on
the other side. So, for a continuous probability distribution, the median is defined as the point M
such that

M

## the definition involving cumulative probability distributions is significantly preferable in this

case (assuming the cdf has a closed form expression).

## Multivariate Probability Distributions

So far we have discussed marginal density functions, or probability density functions for one
variable. In the previous lesson, we discussed correlation and how multiple variables may be
related. We can capture the interdependence (and independence) of multiple random variables
by looking at the multivariate probability distribution, specifically joint and conditional
distributions. For our purposes, we will stick to the context of just two variables.

## Joint Probability Distributions

We will mostly focus on the continuous case here, noting only for the discrete case that, for two
random variables X and Y, the discrete joint probability density (or mass in the case of discrete)
function is denoted by P ( X = x, Y = y ) . But we shall let our discussion of how to find such a
probability be couched in the continuous case. If X is the foreign aid that a country receives
from the U.S. and Y is the growth rate of that countrys economy the month prior to aid being
disseminated, we would expect the two variables to be related since we would expect that aid
would go to low-growth countries, so prior growth may decrease aid.
The probability that X is in some interval and Y is in some other interval can be calculated by
knowing the joint density function (or bivariate density function) f ( x, y ) . Probabilities are
found by integrating this function, as before: P ( x1 < X < x2 , y1 < Y < y2 ) =
Since f ( x, y ) is a density function, we still have

y2
y1

x2

x1

f ( x, y ) dxdy .

## f ( x, y ) dxdy = 1 . And we can actually

derive either marginal distribution from the joint distribution, by integrating with respect to the
variable we dont want: f ( x ) =

f ( x, y ) dy, f ( y ) =

f ( x, y ) dx .

## Example 6.12 Consider the joint density function f ( x, y ) = xy for 0 x 1 and 0 y 2 .

Verify that both this and the two marginal density functions are all proper density functions.

Page | 13

## The area under the function is

0 0

xydydx

1
2
1
y2
= xdx = 2 xdx = x 2 = 1 . The marginal density functions are f ( x ) = xydy = 2 x
0
0
0
0
2 0
1

1
and f ( y ) = xydy = y . So then
0
2
1

f ( x ) dx = 2 xdx = x

2 1

= 1 and
0

1
1
ydy = y 2 = 1
2
4 0

## Conditional Probability Distributions

Recall the definition of conditional probability, P ( A | B ) =

P ( A B)

## , and note that this

P (B)
definition relates the marginal, joint, and conditional probabilities to one another. The same
f ( y, x )
relationship exists in the context of probability distributions: f ( y | x ) =
, where f ( y | x )
f ( x)
is the conditional density function. The discrete case is an even more direct application of the
P ( X = x, Y = y )
P ( X = x, Y = y )
definition: P ( X = x | Y = y ) =
and P (Y = y | X = x ) =
.
P (Y = y )
P ( X = x)

Example 6.13 Consider the following joint distribution of two random variables X and Y:

X =1
0.4
0.2

Y =2
Y =4

X =0
0.1
0.3

## Find the conditional distribution of X given Y.

Solution 6.13 All we need to do is find the conditional probabilities for all possible combinations
of values that X and Y can take. Thus,
P ( X = 1, Y = 2 )
0.4
P ( X = 1| Y = 2 ) =
=
= 0.8
P (Y = 2 )
0.4 + 0.1

P ( X = 1| Y = 4 ) =
P ( X = 0 | Y = 2) =

P ( X = 1, Y = 4 )
0.2
=
= 0.4
P (Y = 4 )
0.2 + 0.3
P ( X = 0, Y = 2 )
P (Y = 2 )

0.1
= 0.2
0.4 + 0.1

P ( X = 0, Y = 4 )
0.3
=
= 0.6
P (Y = 4 )
0.2 + 0.3
If asked, we could find the conditional distribution of Y given X similarly.
P ( X = 0 | Y = 4) =

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## Math Lesson 6 Notes

Now that we have defined conditional probability distributions, we can formally define what it
means for two random variables to be independentand, therefore, more generally, how random
variables may be related or unrelated. Recall that two events A and B are independent if and
only if P ( A B ) = P ( A) P ( B ) , or, equivalently, iff P ( A | B ) = P ( A) , P ( B | A) = P ( B ) . Well,
two discrete random variables are independent iff P ( X = x, Y = y ) = P ( X = x ) P (Y = y ) or

## P ( X = x | Y = y ) = P ( X = x ) , P (Y = y | X = x ) = P (Y = y ) , and continuous random variables

are independent iff f ( x, y ) = f ( x ) f ( y ) or f ( x | y ) = f ( x ) , f ( y | x ) = f ( y ) . Note that the
variables in Example 6.12 were independent, since f ( x ) f ( y ) = 2 x ( 0.5) y = xy = f ( x, y ) .

## Characteristics of Multivariate Probability Distributions

Just like for marginal distributions, we can also calculate the expectation of jointly or
conditionally distributed random variables. Depending on the joint distribution, this may involve
finding E ( X + Y ) = E ( X ) + E (Y ) , E ( XY ) , or E ( X 2Y ) . Furthermore, the covariance of two
random variables is cov ( X , Y ) = E ( X E ( X ) ) (Y E (Y ) ) = E ( XY ) E ( X ) E (Y ) , so being
able to find E ( XY ) can be especially important. In other words, we can determine how two
variables are correlated from the joint distribution of those variables.

Example 6.14 Find E ( XY ) for the joint distribution from Example 6.12.
Solution 6.14 E ( XY ) =

0 0

xyf ( x, y ) dydx =

0 0

1 2 3 2
8 1
8
x y ) dx = x 2 dx = .
(
0
0 3
3 0
9

x 2 y 2 dydx =

Calculating expectations for conditional distributions is pretty much the same as calculating them
for marginal distributions. The only difference is that we need to use the conditional
probabilities or density functions for the discrete and continuous cases, respectively. That is,
E ( X | Y ) = E ( X | Y = y ) = xP ( X = x | Y = y ) and vice versa for discrete random variables,
all x

while E ( X | Y ) = E ( X | Y = y ) =

all x

## xf ( x | y ) dx and vice versa for continuous variables.

Example 6.15 Using the discrete probability distribution in Example 6.13, find E (Y | X = 1) .
Solution 6.15 E (Y | X = 1) = yP (Y = y | X = 1) = 4 P (Y = 4 | X = 1) + 2 P (Y = 2 | X = 1)
all y

0.2 0.4 4 4 8
= 4
+ 2
= + = = 2.67
0.2 + 0.4 0.2 + 0.4 3 3 3
Note that conditional expectations are functions of the variable that is given. Thus, for an
arbitrary value of the random variable X (i.e. X = x) that is given, the conditional expectation is a
function of that arbitrary value of X; in other words, the conditional expectation is itself a
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## Math Lesson 6 Notes

random variable! As a result, it is possible to take the expectation of it again. The Law of
Iterated Expectations tells us that E ( E ( X | Y ) ) = E ( X ) ; in fact, this holds for any function of X

## and Y: E E ( g ( X , Y ) | X ) = E E ( g ( X , Y ) | Y ) = E ( g ( X , Y ) ) . The implication here is that we

can find unconditional expectations from conditional expectations, if the latter is easier to find
initially. One use of this law is to write random variables covariance in terms of conditional
expectations: cov ( X , Y ) = E ( E ( XY | X ) ) E ( X ) E (Y ) = E ( X E ( Y | X ) ) E ( X ) E ( Y ) .

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