Major Movements in Psychology

Psychology As a Science

What is the difference between the median and the mean and why does it matter?

The mean is very sensitive to extreme values, also known as outliers, and so can give a distorted view of a population when some values are much higher than the rest. The median is not affected by outliers and thus can be a more stable measure of central tendencies. For example, the mean of 8, 8, 9, 12, 13, and 102 is equal to 26.4 but the median is equal to 10.5. This distinction is very important when describing characteristics such as national income. Due to a small percentage of people with very large incomes, the average or mean income in the United States is higher than the median income. Because of this the U.S. Census only reports median income. The mean, on the other hand, is more useful in statistical analyses.


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