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The binomial 

distribution 5.2

Introduction
A situation in which an experiment (or trial) is repeated a xed number of times can be modelled,
under certain assumptions, by the binomial distribution. Within each trial we focus attention
on a particular outcome. If the outcome occurs we label this as a success. The binomial
distribution allows us to calculate the probability of observing a certain number of successes in
a given number of trials.

Prerequisites understand the concepts of probability and


probability distributions.
Before starting this Block you should . . .

Learning Outcomes Learning Style


To achieve what is expected of you . . .
After completing this Block you should be able
to . . .
allocate sucient study time
recognise and use the formula for
binomial probabilities
briey revise the prerequisite material

understand the assumptions on which the attempt every guided exercise and most
binomial model is based of the other exercises
1. The binomial model
We have introduced random variables from a general perspective and have seen that there are
two basic types: discrete or continuous. We examine three particular examples of distributions
for random variables which occur often in practice and have been given special names. They
are the binomial distribution, the Poisson distribution and the Normal distribution. The rst
two are distributions for discrete random variables and the third is for a continuous random
variable. In this block we focus attention on the binomial distribution.
The binomial distribution can be used in situations in which a given experiment (often referred
to, in this context, as a trial) is repeated a number of times. For the binomial model to be
applied the following four criteria must be satised

the trial is carried out a xed number of times n.

the outcomes of each trial can be classied into two types conveniently named success or
failure.

the probability p of success remains constant for each trial.

the individual trials are independent of each other.

For example, if we consider throwing a coin 7 times what is the probability that exactly 4 heads
occur? This problem can be modelled by the binomial distribution since the four basic criteria
are assumed satised as we see.

here the trial is throwing a coin. This is carried out 7 times

the occurrence of a head on any given trial (i.e. throw) may be called a success

the probability of success is p = 1


2
and remains constant for each trial

each throw of the coin is independent from the others.

The reader will be able to complete the solution to this example once we have constructed the
general binomial model.
First we shall nd it convenient to denote the probability of failure on a trial, which is 1 p,
by q, that is:
q = 1 p.
What we shall do is to calculate probabilities of the number of successes occurring in n trials,
beginning with n = 1.
n=1 With only one trial we can observe either 1 success (with probability p) or 0 successes
(with probability q).
n=2 Here there are 3 possibilities: We can observe 2, 1 or 0 successes. Let S denote a
success and F denote a failure. So a failure followed by a success would be denoted by F S
whilst two failures followed by one success would be denoted by F F S and so on.
Then

P (2 successes in 2 trials) = P (SS) = P (S)P (S)


= p2

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5.2: Applied Probability Distribution
(where we have used the assumption of independence between trials and hence multiplied prob-
abilities). Now, using the usual rules of basic probability, we have:

P (1 success in 2 trials) = P ((SF ) (F S))


= P (SF ) + P (F S)
= pq + qp = 2pq

P (0 successes in 2 trials) = P (F F ) = P (F )P (F )
= q2

The three probabilities we have found viz. p2 , 2pq, q 2 are in fact the terms which arise in the
binomial expansion of (p + q)2 p2 + 2pq + q 2 . We also note that since q = 1 p that the
probabilities sum to 1 (as we should expect):

p2 + 2pq + q 2 = (p + q)2 = (p + (1 p))2 = 1

Now do this exercise


List the outcomes for the case n = 3, calculate their probabilities and display the results
in a table.
Answer
Note that the probabilities you have obtained:

p3 , 3p2 q, 3pq 2 , q 3

are the terms which arise in the binomial expansion of (p + q)3 = p3 + 3p2 q + 3pq 2 + q 3

Now do this exercise


Repeat the previous exercise with n = 4.

Answer
Again we explore the connection between the probabilities and the terms in the binomial ex-
pansion of (p + q)4 . Consider this expansion

(p + q)4 p4 + 4p3 q + 6p2 q 2 + 4pq 3 + q 4

Then, for example, the term 4p3 q, is the probability of 3 successes in the four trials. These
successes can occur anywhere in the four trials and there must be one failure hence the p3 and
q components which are multiplied together. The remaining part of this term, 4, is the number
of ways of selecting three objects from 4.
4!
Similarly there are 4C2 = 2!2! = 6 ways of selecting two objects from 4 so that the coecient 6
2 2
combines with p and q to give the probability of two successes (and hence two failures) in four
trials. (At the end of this Block we have included a section on permutations and combinations).
The approach described here can be extended for any number n of trials.

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5.2: Applied Probability Distribution
Key Point

The Binomial Probabilities


Let X be a discrete random variable, being the number of successes occurring in n independent
trials of an experiment. If X is to be described by the binomial model, the probability of exactly
r successes in n trials is given by

P (X = r) = nCr pr q nr .

Here there are r successes (each with probability p), n r failures (each with probability q) and
n n!
Cr = r!(nr)! is the number of ways of placing the r successes among the n trials.

Try each part of this exercise


1
Using the binomial model, and assuming that a success occurs with probability 5
in each trial,
nd the probability that in 6 trials there are
(i) 0 successes (ii) 3 successes (iii) 2 failures.

Part (i) Let X be the number of successes in 6 independent trials.


Answer

Part (ii) Again dene X as in (i).


Answer

Part (iii) Now complete the problem.


Answer

2. Mean and variance of the binomial distribution


If X is a random variable with a binomial distribution then it can be shown that the expected
value (the mean) and the variance of X are

E(X) = np V (X) = npq

The value for E(X) is intuitively reasonable since the probabilty of obtaining a success in one
trial is p and so the expected number of successes in n trials is np. The expression for V (X)

gives the standard deviation as npq.

Now do this exercise


A die is thrown repeatedly 36 times in all. Find E(X) and V (X) where X is the number
of sixes obtained.
Answer

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5.2: Applied Probability Distribution
More exercises for you to try
1. The probability that a car travelling along a certain road will have a tyre burst is
0.05. Find the probability that among 17 cars:

(a) exactly one has a burst tyre,


(b) at most three have a burst tyre,
(c) two or more have burst tyres.

2. (a) A Transmission channel transmits zeros and ones in strings of length 8. (Call
these words). possible distortion may change a one to a zero or vice versa;
assume this distortion occurs with probability .01 for each digit, independently.
An error-correcting code is employed in the construction of the word such that
the receiver can deduce the word correctly if at most one digit is in error. What
is the probability the word is decoded incorrectly?
(b) Assume that a word is a sequence of 10 zeros or ones and, as before, the prob-
ability of incorrect transmission of a digit is .01. If the error-correcting code
allows correct decoding of the word if no more than two digits are incorrect,
computer the probability that the word is decoded correctly.

3. An examination consists of 10 multi-choice questions, in each of which a candidate


has to deduce which one of ve suggested answers is correct. A completely unpre-
pared student may be assumed to guess each answer completely randomly. What
is the probability that this student gets 8 or more questions correct? Draw the
appropriate moral!
Answer

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5.2: Applied Probability Distribution
3. Permutations and Combinations
A permutation is an arrangement. A combination is a group.
Thus abc, bac, cab are dierent permutations of the same group abc of three items a, b and c.
In a permutation order is the essential word. In combinations the order of items is of no
importance.
Suppose we have n dierent items and we wish to nd how many dierent ways they can be
arranged, using all of them in each arrangement. This problem is identical with that of seating
n people on n chairs in every possible way.
The rst chair may be lled in n ways. When this has been done the second chair may be lled
in (n 1) ways since we must leave one person on the rst chair. We continue in this way until
there is only one person to ll the last chair. Thus the number of ways of arranging n things
using all of them in each arrangement is
n(n 1)(n 2) . . . 3.2.1 n!

Finding Permutations
Suppose we have n items. How many arrangements of r items can we form from these n items?
The number of arrangements is denoted by nPr . The n refers to the number of dierent items
and the r refers to the number of them appearing in each arrangement. This is equivalent to
nding how many dierent arrangements of people we can get on r chairs if we have n people
to choose from. We proceed as above.
The rst chair can be lled by n people; the second by (n 1) people and so on. The rth chair
can be lled by (n r + 1) people. Hence we easily see that
n!
n
Pr = n(n 1)(n 2) . . . (n r + 1)
(n r)!

Finding Combinations
The notation nCr means the number of groups (or combinations) each containing r things which
we can get if we have n dierent things from which to choose them.

This problem is identical with that of nding how many dierent groups of r people we can get
from n people.
We know that any group of r people can be arranged in r! ways. Thus a group of 4 people can
be arranged in 4! = 24 ways.
If we put X = nCr then Xr! represents the number of ways in which n people can form r
arrangements, since every group of r can arrange themselves in r! ways. Thus
n
Pr n!
Xr! = nPr so n
Cr = =
r! (n r)!r!
For example, the number of soccer teams that can be picked from 14 people is
1414! 14.13.12
C11 = = = 364
3!11! 3.2.1
However, if teams were regarded as distinct if playing positions mattered then there would be
P11 = 14.13.12 . . . 5.4 1.4 1010
14

dierent teams.

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End of Block 5.2

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5.2: Applied Probability Distribution
{three successes, two successes, one success, no success} or
Three successes occur only as SSS with probability p3 .
Two successes can occur as SSF with probability (p2 q), as SF S with probability (pqp) or as
F SS with probability (qp2 ).
These are mutually exclusive events so the combined probability is the sum 3p2 q.
Similarly, we can calculate the other probabilities and obtain the following table of results.

Number of successes 3 2 1 0
Probability p3 3p2 q 3pq 2 q3

Back to the theory

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5.2: Applied Probability Distribution
Number of successes 4 3 2 1 0
Probability p4 4p3 q 6p2 q 2 4pq 3 q4

Back to the theory

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5.2: Applied Probability Distribution
1 4
In each case p = and q = 1 p = .
5 5
(i) Here r = 0 and
 6
64 4096 .
P (X = 0) = q = = = 0.262
5 15625

Back to the theory

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5.2: Applied Probability Distribution
(ii) Here r = 3 and
 3   3
654 1 4 20 64 12 80
6 3 3
P (X = 3) = C3 p q = = = = 0.0819
123 5 5 56 15625

Back to the theory

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5.2: Applied Probability Distribution
 4  2
65 1 4 15 42 240
6 4 2
(iii) Here r = 4 and P (X = 4) = C4 p q = = = = 0.01536
12 5 5 56 15625

Back to the theory

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5.2: Applied Probability Distribution
Consider the occurrence of a six, with X being the number of sixes thrown in 36 trials.
The random variable X follows a binomial distribution. (Why?) A trial is the operation of
1
throwing a die. A success is the occurrence of a 6 on a particular trial, so p = . We have
6
1
n = 36, p = so that
6
1 1 5
E(X) = np = 36 = 6 and V (X) = npq = 36 = 5.
6 6 6

Hence the standard deviation is = 5
2.236. This implies that in 36 throws of a fair die
we would expect, on average, to see 6 sixes.

Back to the theory

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5.2: Applied Probability Distribution
1. Binomial distribution P (X = r) = nCr pr (1 p)nr where p is the probability of single
success which is tyre burst.
17
(a) P (X = 1) = C1 (0.05)1 (0.95)16 = 0.3741
(b)

P (X 3) = P (X = 0) + P (X = 1) + P (X = 2) + P (X = 3)
= (0.95)17 + 17(0.05)(0.95)16 + 17(8)(0.05)2 (0.95)15
+17(8)(5)(0.05)3 (0.95)14
= 0.9912

(c)

P (X 2) = 1 P [(X = 0) (X = 1)]
= 1 (0.95)17 17(0.05)(0.95)16 = 0.2077

2. (a) P (distortion) = 0.01 for each digit. This is a binomial situation in which the
probability of success is 0.01 = p and there are n = 8 trials.
A word is decoded incorrectly if there are two or more digits in error

P (X 2) = 1 P [(X = 0) (X = 1)]
= 1 8C0 (0.99)8 8C1 (0.01)(0.99)7 = 0.00269

(b) Same as (a) with n = 10. Correct decoding if X 2

P (X 2) = P [(X = 0) (X = 1) (X = 2)]
= (0.99)10 + 10(0.01)(0.99)9 + 45(0.01)2 (0.99)8
= 0.9998861

3. Let X be a random variable number of answers guessed correctly then for each question
1
(i.e. trial) the probability of a success = . It is clear that X follows a binomial
5
distribution with n = 10 and p = 0.2.

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5.2: Applied Probability Distribution
1
P (randomly choosing correct answer) = n = 10
5
P (8 or more correct) = P {(X = 8) (X = 9) (X = 10)}
= 10C8 (0.2)8 (0.8)2 + 10C9 (0.2)9 (0.8) + 10
C10 (0.2)10
= 0.000078

Back to the theory

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