What is Kurtosis?

Kurtosis is a statistical measure that describes the shape of a distribution's tails in relation to its overall shape. Specifically, kurtosis quantifies whether the tails of a given distribution contain extreme values (outliers) that are either more or less common than those of a normal distribution. It is a crucial tool for understanding the probability and likelihood of extreme deviations in datasets.

Understanding Kurtosis

The concept of kurtosis is often associated with the 'peakedness' or 'flatness' of a distribution; however, this is a common misconception. Kurtosis is actually more about the tails of the distribution than its peak. A distribution with high kurtosis tends to have heavy tails, or outliers, which means there is a higher chance of extreme positive or negative events occurring. Conversely, a distribution with low kurtosis has light tails, indicating a lower chance of extreme events.

Types of Kurtosis

There are three types of kurtosis that statisticians typically refer to:

  • Mesokurtic: This is the kurtosis of a normal distribution, and it has a kurtosis value of 3. Mesokurtic distributions have tails that are similar to the normal distribution.
  • Leptokurtic: A leptokurtic distribution has kurtosis greater than 3. These distributions are characterized by fatter tails, which suggests a higher likelihood of extreme values. Financial returns often exhibit leptokurtic behavior, indicating a higher risk of investment.
  • Platykurtic: A platykurtic distribution has kurtosis less than 3. These distributions have thinner tails, which implies a lower likelihood of extreme values occurring.

Calculating Kurtosis

Kurtosis is calculated using the fourth moment about the mean. The formula for kurtosis is:

Kurtosis = (N * Σ(xi - x̄)⁴) / ((N - 1) * (N - 2) * (N - 3) * σ⁴) - 3


  • N is the number of observations,
  • xi is each individual observation,
  • is the mean of all observations,
  • σ

    is the standard deviation.

The "-3" at the end of the formula is used to adjust the kurtosis value so that the normal distribution has a kurtosis of 0 (or 3 depending on whether the adjustment is made). This makes it easier to compare the kurtosis of other distributions against the normal distribution.

Excess Kurtosis

Excess kurtosis is the kurtosis of a distribution minus the kurtosis of a normal distribution (3). It provides a reference to the normal distribution and is often used in statistical tests to determine if a dataset has a normal distribution. Positive excess kurtosis indicates a leptokurtic distribution, while negative excess kurtosis indicates a platykurtic distribution.

Applications of Kurtosis

Kurtosis is widely used in various fields, including finance, meteorology, and quality control. In finance, kurtosis is used to assess the risk of investments, as high kurtosis can indicate a higher probability of extreme returns. In meteorology, kurtosis can help in understanding the likelihood of extreme weather events. In quality control, kurtosis can be used to detect anomalies in manufacturing processes.

Importance of Kurtosis in Data Analysis

Understanding kurtosis is essential for data analysis because it provides insights into the likelihood of outliers, which can significantly affect statistical models and predictions. It is also important for hypothesis testing and in the development of strategies to mitigate risk in various scenarios.


Kurtosis is a statistical measure that provides valuable information about the distribution of data, particularly in the tails. By analyzing kurtosis, one can gain insights into the probability of extreme values occurring within a dataset. This can be crucial for risk assessment, decision-making, and understanding the underlying characteristics of a data set.

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