Have you ever wondered what your chances are of winning the lottery? Or maybe you’ve thought about the odds of becoming the next President of the United States? These are completely common things to think about, but you might be surprised to know that you are actually thinking about math. The questions above are actually applications of probability in everyday life. 

Keep reading to see more examples of probability examples in real life and learn some ways you can use it to your advantage..

[Read: Math in Everyday Life]

What Is Probability?

Probability is a mathematical term used to talk about the likelihood of something happening. It’s the ability to understand and predict an outcome. We generally use probability to understand the world around us to judge what is likely to happen and what isn’t likely to happen.

Real-life can be chaotic, and lots of things happen that don’t seem to make any sense. You can’t always know what’s going to happen. But you can do your best, with the help of mathematics, to predict what is going to happen so you can make sound decisions every day.

Everything from a coin flip to the weather can be predicted by probability. We express mathematical probability in terms of fractions and percentages. Once you know the probability of something, you usually classify it as follows.

  • It’s certain. (This is a probability of 100 percent, which is the highest possible likelihood of something happening)
  • It’s likely. (Probability is between 50 percent and 100 percent)
  • There’s an even chance. (There’s a 50 percent probability of it going either way)
  • It’s unlikely. (The probability is between zero and 50 percent)
  • It’s impossible. (The probability is zero)

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What Are The Types Of Probability?

Classical probability: This is a basic approach to probability.. Think of rolling dice and coin tossing. You look at all the possible scenarios that action can lead to and record the actual occurrences. 

The only results you can get when flipping a coin are heads or tails. If you flip the coin ten times, you measure the results ten times and write what happened. This is the simplest method to measure probability.

Experimental probability: This is based on the number of total possible outcomes by the total possible number of trials. When you flip a coin, your options are heads and tails; a total of two outcomes. 

The total number of trials is found by the total times the coin is flipped. If it’s flipped 50 times, then lands on heads 30 times, the experimental probability is then 30/50.

Theoretical probability: This is an approach that focuses on the possible chances of something happening. If you want to know the theoretical probability of a die roll landing on the number 3, you must first find out the total number of outcomes that exist. 

A die has 6 sides, which results in 6 different possibilities. If you want to land on a 3, you have a 1 in 6 chance. Theoretical probability isn’t that useful when calculating probability in the real world because it’s based on models instead of real life.

Subjective probability: This is based on the person’s own reasoning and biases. It’s the probability that the outcome a person is expecting because of their experience, will occur.

There are no formal or deeply logical reasons for subjective probability.  This one is based on feelings and emotions instead, the very opposite of every other kind of probability.

Take a sports game as an example—a person bets that the chances of their favorite team winning is high simply because they’re the one rooting for the team. This is all subjective, with a very little logical basis to back it up.

[Read: Application of Calculus]

Probability Examples In Real Life

1. Forecasting the weather.

Here’s a simple use of probability in real life that you likely already do. We always check the weather forecast before we plan a big outing. Sometimes the forecaster declares that there’s a 60 percent chance of rain. 

We might decide to delay our outing because we trust this forecast. But where did the “60 percent” come from? Meteorologists use expensive equipment and algorithms to understand the likelihood of weather happenings. They look at the historical data, combine it with current trends, and look at the chances of rain occurring on a certain day.

If you see a 60 percent chance of rain, don’t take that to mean that it’s definitely going to rain. The 60 percent implies that on days with similar weather conditions, 60 out of 100 times, it ended up raining. This is where the 60 percent comes from. 

The same applies to temperature guesstimates, along with chances of snow, hail, or thunderstorms. This is just one of the probability examples in real life that can help you in your day-to-day life.

2. Sports outcomes.

Coaches use probability to decide the best possible strategy to pursue in a game. When a particular batter goes up to bat in a baseball game, the players and coach can look up the player’s specific batting average to deduce how that player will perform.  The coach can then plan their approach accordingly. 

[Read: Examples of Trigonometry]

3. Card games and other games of chance.

The card game Rummy uses probability, as well as permutations and combinations to guesstimate the kind of cards that will end up on the table. Poker odds are another great application of probability in real life. Players use probability to estimate their chances of getting a good hand, a bad hand, and whether they should bet more or simply fold their hands. 

Probability and statistics is a major part of card games, and this is why poker is so difficult. Sometimes, you get a bad hand, and there’s nothing you can do about it. Unless you’re gutsy and can bluff your way out of a dire situation.

4. Insurance.

If you were absolutely certain that you’d never get into a car accident, then you never need to spend money on car insurance, right? But the moment you own a car and drive around, the chances of you getting into an accident becomes non-zero. Or more than 0 percent. 

The higher the likelihood of you running into an accident, the higher the premium you have to pay.  Teenage boys end up paying a whole lot more on car insurance than other people. This is one way insurance companies do business—by breaking down complex real-life situations into numbers so they can help the most number of people and penalize people that are at high risk. 

Insurance companies make use of probability in the real world to make money.

5. Traffic signals.

What’s the average amount of time you’ll spend waiting in traffic? Did you know traffic signals work on probability as well? Roads with high traffic have higher waiting times because of traffic signals. 

It’s programmed into the signals because the people that create and set up these signals understand the average number of people that need to cross the roads and understand the average number of vehicles in an area.

You can understand the flow of traffic in a city and even estimate the number of green lights you’ll end up with if you take pen and paper in hand and write down all the possibilities.

This is one of the probability examples in real life that can help you waste less time on things you don’t like and more on what you want to actually do.

[Read: Father of Mathematics]

6. Medical diagnosis.

This is one of the most noble applications of probability in real life. How does your doctor know that your cough is just because of an infection and not because of something more serious? Doctors widely go by the proverb coined in the 1940s by Dr. Theodore Woodward, professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine., which states, “When you hear hooves, think horses, not zebras.”

The chances of you having an exotic, serious disease if you have a cough is very low when compared to you coughing because you have simple throat irritation, a simple infection, or something else really mundane. Doctors have to understand false positives and false negatives extensively if they want to diagnose patients. They deal with dozens, if not hundreds of patients a day. 

Doctors use all kinds of mathematical techniques in their daily practice so they can treat people efficiently. This is one of the more useful probability examples in real life since it can save people’s lives when done correctly.

7. Election results.

Political pundits are everywhere, and once election results draw near, you can be sure every news channel in your country will be filled with buzz about the winner. Election officials use historical data to understand how a region voted previously to understand who they will vote for this time. 

They combine this with current trends, current polls, and do a lot of math to arrive at a conclusion on who is going to win.

8. Lottery probability.

There’s one way to make sure you 100 percent win the lottery. And that’s to buy all of the tickets. But lottery organizations have laws and safeguards in place to prevent people from doing just that. So how can you increase your chances while following the rules and law as much as possible?

The rules of probability dictate that the only way to win the lottery is to be part of it. Then you can further increase your odds by playing frequently. Each time you play the lottery, there’s an independent probability frequency, like with a coin flip, where you can win or lose.

While buying more than one ticket can indeed increase your chances of winning, this doesn’t give you a significant advantage in beating the odds at all. At least, not in any amount that justifies the additional cost of tickets.

[Read: Famous Mathematicians in the World]

The more tickets that are sold, the lesser your chances of winning. In fact, it’s commonly said that your chances of winning the lottery are less than 

  • Becoming the next Bill Gates
  • Being smashed by a meteorite
  • Becoming a movie star

So we can see that your best move, in fact, would be not to play at all. Playing the lottery is one of those probability examples in real life that are sadder than others. 

9. Shopping recommendations.

Ever wonder why you have Amazon recommend certain products to buy after you finish purchasing something else? It’s because businesses understand consumer behavior. 

They understand you so well, in fact, that they can guess your next purchases based on what you’ve previously bought. If you’re shopping for pregnancy clothes, for example, there’s a fairly obvious chance that you’ll be buying baby slippers and diapers about 9 months later. 

This isn’t rocket science, but probability can help you understand the shopping habits of people in the present and predict their shopping habits in the future as a result.

10. Stock market predictions.

How do you know if the stock you’ve bought today will rise in price next month or fall instead? There are millions of people trying to find the answer to this question. They use tremendous amounts of historical data, algorithms, and predictive analytics that all make use of math to understand the market. This is one of the most formal and studied probability examples in real life. 

Some people even think that the collective mood of Twitter users can be used to predict the rise and fall of the stock market. The stock market is widely known to run off people’s emotions and not necessarily things based on sound logic.

But there are other safer and simpler ways to predict a stock’s performance. If the CEO of a company says stupid things or starts dancing in their underpants on live television, you can bet that the public’s trust in the company will deteriorate, and the stock will fall as a result.

Probability is a strange and fascinating field that can be incredibly fun and interesting to study. 

While life is chaotic, you can use math to break down a lot of things in real life to predict what’s going to happen in the future. Seeing how probability in real life works out can be fascinating to anyone that’s mathematically inclined.

Probability is one of those fields which can genuinely change your life if you learn how to calculate them and put them to good use. If you understand even a few probability examples in real life, you can make better decisions and gain a serious advantage over other people.
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