Frequency Distributions: Definition & Types

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  • 0:06 Definitions
  • 1:00 Frequency Table
  • 2:02 Percentage
  • 3:56 Histogram
  • 4:48 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Devin Kowalczyk

Devin has taught psychology and has a master's degree in clinical forensic psychology. He is working on his PhD.

This lesson explores the process of creating frequency distributions and histograms to give readers of your future scientific articles a numerical or visual way to understand the data you have presented.


My family and I go out every major holiday and buy up all the clearance candy. And we're not talking like one or two bags; we're talking like 10 to 15 bags. It's the most wonderful time of the year.

With all this candy around, it makes me wonder exactly how much of each type of candy I have. I mean, if I want to make the candy last for 60 days, I need to know how much candy I can eat each day. It's not as crazy as it sounds. I tend to eat up all the good candy in a few days, and then I'm forced to reduce my intake to make it last until I'm just kind of eating the dregs by the end.

To this end, I need to know how much of each type of candy I have. I will need to make a frequency distribution, which is defined as a list of how often each value occurs. There are many ways the information can be presented, and we will look at each one.

Frequency Table

When dealing with smaller samples, the scores can be represented in a simple list. My candy bars aren't very psychological, so maybe we should shift to an evaluation of mental health symptoms at a clinic. You examine the files and find that depression occurs in 14 clients, anxiety in 16 clients, stress in 20 clients, and relationship issues in 5 clients. You would create a list that looks like this:

Symptoms Clients
Relationship issues 5
Depression 14
Anxiety 16
Stress 20

This type of table is useful if you have a short list of items and the numbers are fairly intuitive. Remember to list your items from highest to lowest or lowest to highest. You want the list to make sense, and if the numbers are all scrambled, then the frequency distribution is not describing your data. If the list of variables becomes longer or more complex, then you will need to add a new aspect to your list.


The distributions, if they get long or complicated, can also be explained in the form of a percentage. This allows the reader to see and understand the distribution of the data. The process is simple: using a previously made distribution, divide each number by the total number of scores collected. Using our previous example, it would look like this:

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