Chapter 2 Discrete random variables

The outcome of a random experiment can often be presented in terms of a number. It is at least possible to summarize the relevant part of the outcome in a number.

A random variable is the numerical outcome of a random experiment, it is a number at random.

2.1 Definition of random variable

Associated with a random experiment we have a family of events with the \(\sigma\)-algebra structure, while in \({\mathbb R}\), the borelian sets (intervals, their complementaries, unions and intersections) do also form a \(\sigma\)-algebra.

A random variable is a measurable mapping from the sample space asociated with a random experiment into the set of real numbers, \(X:S\mapsto{\mathbb R}\).

It associates each outcome of a random experiment with a real number and is measurable because the inverse image of every borelian set does belong to the \(\sigma\)-algebra of events.

Events associated with a random variable

For any borelian \(A\subset{\mathbb R}\), its inverse image through \(X\), given by \[X^{-1}(A)=\{s\in S:\, X(s)\in A\}\] is an event, and as such, we can compute its probability. \[\begin{align*} P(X\in A)&=P(X^{-1}(A))\\ &=P(\{s\in S:\,X(s)\in A\})\,. \end{align*}\]

If \(A\) is a singleton, then \(P(X=x)=P(X^{-1}(x))=P(\{s\in S:\,X(s)=x\})\).

We can ignore the original sample space \(S\) and consider a probability in \({\mathbb R}\) given by \(P_X(A)=P(X\in A)\) for any borelian \(A\subset{\mathbb R}\).

The support of a r.v. (discrete and continuous variables)

The support or range of a random variable \(X(S)\) is the set of all values that it can assume.

  • if \(X(S)\) is a finite or denumerable set, then \(X\) is a discrete random variable.
  • if \(X(S)\) contains all the elements in an interval of real numbers, then \(X\) is a continuous random variable.

2.2 Discrete r.v.s, probability mass function, and cumulative distribution function

Probability mass function A probability mass function associates each real number \(x\) with the probability that the random variable \(X\) exactly matches it, \[p(x)=P(X=x).\]

Properties of the probability mass function

  • \(0\leq p(x)\leq 1\) for every \(x\in{\mathbb R}\)
  • if \(X(S)=\{x_i\}_{i\in I}\), then \(\sum_{i\in I} p(x_i)=1\)

The probability that \(X\) lies in any Borelian \(A\subset{\mathbb R}\) is \[P(X\in A)=\sum_{x_i\in X(S)\cap A}p(x_i).\]

Cumulative distribution function, cdf The cumulative distribution function (cdf) of r.v. \(X\) evaluated at \(x\in{\mathbb R}\) is the probability that \(X\) is not greater than \(x\), \[F(x)=P(X\leq x)=\sum_{x_i\leq x}p(x_i),\quad\text{where }x_i\in{\mathbb R}.\]

Properties of the cdf of a discrete random variable

  • \(\lim\limits_{x\rightarrow-\infty}F(x)=0\);
  • \(\lim\limits_{x\rightarrow+\infty}F(x)=1\);
  • \(F\) is nondecreasing;
  • \(F\) is right-continuous.

Example (6-face fair die)

\(X\equiv\)’outcome of a roll of a 6-face fair die’ \[p(x)=P(X=x)=\left\{\begin{array}{ll}1/6&\textrm{ if }x\in\{1,2,3,4,5,6\}\\ 0&\textrm{ otherwise}\end{array}\right.,\]

\[F(x)=P(X\leq x)=\left\{\begin{array}{ll}0&\textrm{ if }x<1\\1/6&\textrm{ if }1\leq x<2\\2/6&\textrm{ if }2\leq x<3\\3/6&\textrm{ if }3\leq x<4\\4/6&\textrm{ if }4\leq x<5\\5/6&\textrm{ if }5\leq x<6\\1&\textrm{ if }x\geq 6\end{array}\right..\]

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barplot(table(rolldie(1)$X1)/6,col="light blue")


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2.3 Mean, variance, and quantiles

Mean or expectation The mean or expecation of \(X\) is its probability-weighted average \[{\mathbb E}[X]=\sum_{i\in I} x_ip_X(x_i)\,.\]

Transformation of a random variable If \(X\) discrete r.v. and \(g:{\mathbb R}\mapsto{\mathbb R}\) function, then \(g(X)\) is a discrete r.v. with probability mass function \(p_{g(X)}(y)=P(g(X)=y)=\sum_{g(x_i)=y}P(X=x_i)\).

Properties of the mean For any real numbers \(a,b\in{\mathbb R}\), any function \(g:{\mathbb R}\mapsto{\mathbb R}\), and r.v. \(X\),

  • \({\mathbb E}[aX+b]=a{\mathbb E}[X]+b\);
  • \({\mathbb E}[g(X)]=\sum_{i\in I} g(x_i)p_X(x_i)\);
  • \({\mathbb E}[(X-{\mathbb E}[X])^2]=\min_{x\in{\mathbb R}}{\mathbb E}[(X-x)^2]\).

Variance The variance is a measure of the scatter of the distribution of r.v. \(X\).

It is the expected squared distance of \(X\) to its mean,

Properties of the variance

  • \({\rm Var}[X]\geq 0\);
  • \({\rm Var}[X]={\mathbb E}[X^2]-{\mathbb E}[X]^2\);
  • \({\rm Var}[aX+b]=a^2{\rm Var}[X]\), for any \(a,b\in{\mathbb R}\).

The standard deviation of \(X\) is the (positive) square root of its variance, \[\sigma_X=\sqrt{{\rm Var}[X]}\,.\]

Example (6-face fair die)

\[X\equiv\text{'outcome of a roll of a 6-face fair die'}\] \[{\mathbb E}[X]=1\cdot\frac{1}{6}+2\cdot\frac{1}{6}+3\cdot\frac{1}{6}+4\cdot\frac{1}{6}+5\cdot\frac{1}{6}+6\cdot\frac{1}{6}=3.5\,.\]

## [1] 3.488

\[X\equiv\text{'outcome of a roll of a 6-face fair die'}\] \[{\mathbb E}[X^2]=1^2\cdot\frac{1}{6}+2^2\cdot\frac{1}{6}+3^2\cdot\frac{1}{6}+4^2\cdot\frac{1}{6}+5^2\cdot\frac{1}{6}+6^2\cdot\frac{1}{6}=15.1667\,,\] \[{\rm Var}[X]={\mathbb E}[X^2]-{\mathbb E}[X]^2=2.9167\,,\] \[\sigma_X=\sqrt{{\rm Var}[X]}=1.7078\,.\]

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Median The median is the most central value with respect to the distribution of a random variable \(X\) in the sense that \[P(X\leq{\rm Me}_X)\geq 1/2\quad\text{and}\quad P(X\geq{\rm Me}_X)\geq 1/2\,.\]

Example (6-face fair die) Any value in the interval \([3,4]\) is a median of the outcome of the die.

Properties of the median

  • \({\rm Me}_{aX+b}=a{\rm Me}_X+b\), for any \(a,b\in{\mathbb R}\);
  • \({\rm Me}_{g(X)}=g({\rm Me}_X)\) if \(g\) is monotone;
  • \({\mathbb E}|X-{\rm Me}_X|=\min_{x\in{\mathbb R}}{\mathbb E}|X-x|\).

Quantiles For \(0<\alpha<1\) the \(\alpha\)-quantile of random variable \(X\) a number \(q_\alpha\) such that \[P(X\leq q_\alpha)\geq \alpha\quad\text{and}\quad P(X\geq q_\alpha)\geq 1-\alpha\,.\]

The quantile function of random variable \(X\) is defined as \[F^{-1}_X(\alpha)=\inf\{x:\,F(x)\geq\alpha\}.\] A quantile function defined like this is:

  • \(\lim\limits_{\alpha\downarrow 0}F^{-1}_X(\alpha)=\inf X(S)\);
  • \(\lim\limits_{\alpha\uparrow 1}F^{-1}_X(\alpha)=\sup X(S)\);
  • nondecreasing;
  • left-continuous.

Example (6-face fair die)

\(X\equiv\)’outcome of a roll of a 6-face fair die’

\[F^{-1}(x)=\left\{\begin{array}{ll}1&\textrm{ if }\,\,\,\,\,\,0<x\leq 1/6\\2&\textrm{ if }1/6<x\leq 2/6\\3&\textrm{ if }2/6<x\leq 3/6\\4&\textrm{ if }3/6<x\leq 4/6\\5&\textrm{ if }4/6<x\leq 5/6\\6&\textrm{ if }5/6<x\leq 1\end{array}\right..\]

2.4 The Bernoulli process

A Bernoulli trial is a random experiment that can only result in two possible outcomes. Commonly we refer to these outcomes as success (S) and failure (F). The probability of success is denoted by \(0<p<1\) and this experiment can be repeated independently as many times as needed.

2.4.1 Binomial distribution binom(size,prob)

Consider a Bernoulli trial with probability of success \(p\) and that is carried out independently \(n\) times, a Binomial random variable \(X\) with parameters \(n\) and \(p\) represents the number of trials that result in success.

\[X\sim{\rm B}(n,p)\] \[P(X=r)={n\choose r}p^r(1-p)^{n-r},\quad r\in\{0,1,\ldots,n\}\]


\[{\mathbb E}[X]=np\quad;\quad{\rm Var}[X]=np(1-p)\]

If \(X\sim{\rm B}(n_1,p)\) and \(Y\sim{\rm B}(n_2,p)\) are indep., then \(X+Y\sim{\rm B}(n_1+n_2,p)\).

Binomial probability mass function dbinom

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Binomial random observations generation rbinom

barplot(table(x)/1000,col="light blue")

Binomial cumulative distribution function pbinom


Binomial empirical cumulative distribution function


Binomial ecdf and cdf

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Binomial quantile function


2.4.2 Geometric (Pascal’s) distribution geom(prob)

Consider a Bernoulli trial with probability of success \(p\), the number of independent trials that result in failure obtained before the first success follows a Geometric distribution with parameter \(p\).

\[X\sim{\mathcal G}(p)\]

\[P(X=r)=p(1-p)^r,\quad r\in\{0,1,2,\ldots\}\]

\[{\mathbb E}[X]=\frac{1-p}{p}\quad ;\quad{\rm Var}[X]=\frac{1-p}{p^2}\]

Geometric probability mass function dgeom

        names.arg=r,col="light blue")

2.4.3 Negative Binomial distribution nbinom(size,prob)

Consider a Bernoulli trial with probability of success \(p\), the number of failures (\(independent\) trials that result in failure) before the \(k\)-th success (trials that result in sucess) follows a Negative Binomial distribution with parameters \(k\) and \(p\).

\[X\sim{\rm NB}(k,p)\] \[P(X=r)={r+k-1\choose r}p^k(1-p)^r,\quad r\in\{0,1,2,\ldots\}\] \[{\mathbb E}[X]=\frac{k(1-p)}{p}\quad;\quad{\rm Var}[X]=\frac{k(1-p)}{p^2}\]

2.5 Hypergeometric distribution hyper(m,n,k)

Consider a finite population with \(N_1+N_2\) objects, such that \(N_1\) are of type 1 and \(N_2\) are of type 2. A total number of \(k\) objects are selected from the population without replacement. The number of objects of type \(N_1\) in the selection follows a Hypergeometric distribution with parameters \(N_1,N_2\), and \(k\).

\[X\sim{\rm H}(N_1,N_2,k)\]

\[P(X=r)=\frac{{N_1\choose r}{N_2\choose k-r}}{{N_1+N_2\choose k}},\quad r\in\{\max\{0,k-N_2\},\ldots,\min\{k,N_1\}\}\] \[{\mathbb E}[X]=\frac{kN_1}{N_1+N_2}\quad;\quad{\rm Var}[X]=k\cdot \frac{N_1N_2}{(N_1+N_2)^2}\cdot\frac{N_1+N_2-k}{N_1+N_2-1}\]

2.6 Poisson distribution pois(lambda)

The number of events that occur in a region of space (or time) independently one from the others and at a constant rate \(\lambda>0\) follows a Poisson distribution with parameter \(\lambda\).

\[X\sim{\mathcal P}(\lambda)\]

\[P(X=r)=e^{-\lambda}\frac{\lambda^r}{r!},\quad r\in\{0,1,2,\ldots\}\] \[{\mathbb E}[X]=\lambda\quad;\quad{\rm Var}[X]=\lambda\]

If \(X\sim{\mathcal P}(\lambda_1)\) and \(Y\sim{\mathcal P}(\lambda_2)\) are independent, then \(X+Y\sim{\mathcal P}(\lambda_1+\lambda_2)\).

Poisson probability mass function \(\lambda=1.5\)

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Poisson probability mass function \(\lambda=10\)

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Discrete distributions in R

Distributions R command
Binomial, \({\rm B}(n,p)\) binom(size,prob)
Geometric, \({\mathcal G}(p)\) geom(prob)
Negative Binomial, \({\rm NB}(k,p)\) nbinom(size,prob)
Hypergeometric, \({\rm H}(N_1,N_2,k)\) hyper(m,n,k)
Poisson, \({\mathcal P}(\lambda)\) pois(lambda)
Functions R prefix
probability function d
cumulative probability p
quantile function q
random numbers r