Also known the Gaussian distribution, is an important family of continuous probability distributions, applicable in many fields. Each member of the family may be defined by two parameters, location and scale: the mean ("average", μ) and variance (standard deviation squared, σ2) respectively. The standard normal distribution is the normal distribution with a mean of zero and a variance of one (the red curves in the plots to the right). Carl Friedrich Gauss became associated with this set of distributions when he analyzed astronomical data using them, and defined the equation of its probability density function. It is often called the bell curve because the graph of its probability density resembles a bell. The importance of the normal distribution as a model of quantitative phenomena in the natural and behavioral sciences is due in part to the central limit theorem. Many measurements, ranging from psychological to physical phenomena (in particular, thermal noise) can be approximated, to varying degrees, by the normal distribution. While the mechanisms underlying these phenomena are often unknown, the use of the normal model can be theoretically justified by assuming that many small, independent effects are additively contributing to each observation. The normal distribution is also important for its relationship to least-squares estimation, one of the simplest and oldest methods of statistical estimation.
The normal distribution also arises in many areas of statistics. For example, the sampling distribution of the sample mean is approximately normal, even if the distribution of the population from which the sample is taken is not normal. In addition, the normal distribution maximizes information entropy among all distributions with known mean and variance, which makes it the natural choice of underlying distribution for data summarized in terms of sample mean and variance. The normal distribution is the most widely used family of distributions in statistics and many statistical tests are based on the assumption of normality. In probability theory, normal distributions arise as the limiting distributions of several continuous and discrete families of distributions.