Disclaimer: The information on this page has not been checked by an independent person. Use this information at your own risk.

Click arrows to page adverts

Statistics Index

Confidence Intervals


A confidence interval gives an estimated range of values which is likely to include an unknown population parameter eg the mean, the estimated range being calculated from a collected sample of data.  The width of the confidence interval gives us some idea about how uncertain we are about the unknown parameter .   A very wide interval may indicate that more data should be collected before anything very definite can be said about the parameter.

The only way you can really get a statistical parameter of a population with 100% confidence is to test the whole population.   Generally the population is large and testing the whole population is costly and impracticable.  However it is possible to use a sample and to calculate a range within which the population parameter value is likely to fall.  Normally this is taken to be "95% likelyhood," and the range is called the 95% confidence interval.  It is also possible to produce 90%, 99%, 99.9%, confidence intervals for the unknown parameters.

f(x) = probability function. (values between 0 and 1)
F(x) = probability distribution function.
Xm = Sample mean
var = sample variance
Φ (x) = Probability distribution function.(Standardised probability )
μ = population /random variable mean
σ 2 = population /random variable variance
σ = population /random variable standard deviation
xm = arithmetic mean of sample
sx 2 = variance of sample
sx = Standard deviation of sample

Confidence Interval ref.Normal Probability Distribution

It can be easily proved that for data that is "normally distributed" about 68.3% of the data will be within 1 standard deviation ( σ ) of the mean μ (i.e., within the range μ ± σ).   In general there is a relationship between the fraction of the included data and the deviation from the mean in terms of standard deviations e.g the data fraction is related to μ ± c.σ) as shown in the table below

Fraction of Data valuesc
50,0% 0,674
68,3% 1,000
90,0% 1,645
95,0% 1,960
95,4% 2,000
98,0% 2,326
99,0% 2,576
99,7 3,000

Examples of data spread:
For a sample of a normal population one would expect about 68% of the values to be within ± 1.00 of the sample mean xm
For a sample of a normal population one would expect about 95% of the values to be within ± 1.96 of the sample mean xm.

Example 1:

A random variable is normally distributed with a standard deviation of 5.   A random single sample from this distribution is 12,4 . Find the interval of values such that there is a 99% confidence that the population mean is with the interval range.

From the table above P(μ -2,58 σ < x < +2,58 σ )  =   0.99
Therefore P(μ -12,9 < x < + 12,9 )= 0.99
This implies P(12,4 -12,9 < μ < 12,4 -12,9 ) =0,99
That is -0,5 < μ < 25,3   =  with 99% confidence.
This is simply stating that based on a single sampled value of 12,4 then there is a 99% confidence that the population mean is within the rang -0,5 to 25,3.   This is a wide range and not very useful.  To obtain a more smaller interval a larger sample, ( greater n ) is required.  The distribution of the mean of this sample will be normally distribution with a variance of σ 2 /n (refer to notes below)

Example 2:

Obtain a 95% confidence interval for the mean of a normal distribution with a variance σ 2 = 9, i.e a standard deviation σ = 3
using a sample of n = 100 with a mean x m = 5:
For a 95% confidence interval c = 1,96.
The confidence interval for a 95% probability = P( xm - 1,96 .3 / 100    >   μ   ;>    xm + 1,96 .3 / 100 > )
That is there is a 95% confidence that the mean of the population will be within 4,412 and 5,588

Background Theory

Sample distribution of a population mean

Consider a single random variable X

Now x 1....x n are observed values of X.  The x i values can also be values of random variables X 1, X 2.. Xn. These have the same distributions as X but are independent because the sample values are independent.

Now it is clear that:

X = X 1 + X 2 +.......+X n

This is a normal distribution with a mean

μ = μ 1 + μ 2+....+μn

and a variance

σ 2 = σ 21 + σ 22+....+σ 2n

Considering a population with a mean μ and variance σ 2 .
Now taking a number of samples of size n from this population. Each sample has a mean x m and a variance s x .
It is useful obtain the distribution of the sample mean.

The mean of the sample distribution m (Xm ) = μ
The variance of the sample distribution mean var ( X m) = σ 2 / n
The Standard deviation of the sample distribution mean SD( X m) = σ / n

Central Limit Theorem

If X is a random variable with mean μ and variance σ 2 then the distribution of the sample mean approximates to a Normal distribution with mean μ and variance σ 2 /n as n -->

This is applicable for all distributions of X when n > 30
This is good for normal distribution for all values of n >0

The Central Limit theorem is the foundation for many statistical procedures, because the distribution of the population under study does not have to be Normal : the sample statistic will be tend to a normal distribution anyway.

This is very useful when it comes to inference e.g it permits hypothesis tests which assume normality even if the basis data seems to be non-normal( assuming reasonably large sample sizes.   This is because the tests use the sample mean , which according to the Central Limit Theorem will be approximately normally distributed.  Hypothesis Tests

Useful Related Links
  1. A new view of Statistics ...A very detailed and set of relevant notes
  2. Descriptive Statistics ...A very nice easy to understand page of notes.
  3. The Normal Distribution ...Tutorial with useful applet
  4. Probability Venn Applet.. Useful applet illustrating various probability conditions
  5. Venn Diagrams .... Notes of Venn Diagrams
  6. Wolfram- Venn Diagrams .... High Quality Information source
  7. Statistics Glossary .... Very accessible notes with some detail.
  8. NIST Engineering Statistics Handbook 1.3.6 Probability Distributions ...Comprehensive quality notes.
  9. Weibull Probability Plotting Papers " Downloadable graph papers for different probability distributions

This Page is being developed

Statistics Index

Send Comments to Roy Beardmore

Last Updated 19/04/2008