Skewness

Example distribution with non-zero (positive) skewness. These data are from experiments on wheat grass growth.

In probability theory and statistics, skewness is a measure of the asymmetry of the probability distribution of a real-valued random variable about its mean. The skewness value can be positive or negative, or undefined.

For a unimodal distribution, negative skew commonly indicates that the tail is on the left side of the distribution, and positive skew indicates that the tail is on the right. In cases where one tail is long but the other tail is fat, skewness does not obey a simple rule. For example, a zero value means that the tails on both sides of the mean balance out overall; this is the case for a symmetric distribution, but can also be true for an asymmetric distribution where one tail is long and thin, and the other is short but fat.

Introduction

Consider the two distributions in the figure just below. Within each graph, the values on the right side of the distribution taper differently from the values on the left side. These tapering sides are called tails, and they provide a visual means to determine which of the two kinds of skewness a distribution has:

  1. negative skew: The left tail is longer; the mass of the distribution is concentrated on the right of the figure. The distribution is said to be left-skewed, left-tailed, or skewed to the left, despite the fact that the curve itself appears to be skewed or leaning to the right; left instead refers to the left tail being drawn out and, often, the mean being skewed to the left of a typical center of the data. A left-skewed distribution usually appears as a right-leaning curve.[1]
  2. positive skew: The right tail is longer; the mass of the distribution is concentrated on the left of the figure. The distribution is said to be right-skewed, right-tailed, or skewed to the right, despite the fact that the curve itself appears to be skewed or leaning to the left; right instead refers to the right tail being drawn out and, often, the mean being skewed to the right of a typical center of the data. A right-skewed distribution usually appears as a left-leaning curve.[1]

Negative and positive skew diagrams (English).svg

Skewness in a data series may sometimes be observed not only graphically but by simple inspection of the values. For instance, consider the numeric sequence (49, 50, 51), whose values are evenly distributed around a central value of 50. We can transform this sequence into a negatively skewed distribution by adding a value far below the mean, which is probably a negative outlier, e.g. (40, 49, 50, 51). Therefore, the mean of the sequence becomes 47.5, and the median is 49.5. Based on the formula of nonparametric skew, defined as the sequence is negative. Similarly, we can make the sequence positively skewed by adding a value far above the mean, which is probably a positive outlier, e.g. (49, 50, 51, 60), where the mean is 52.5, and the median is 50.5.