What do the measures of Central Tendency - Mean, Median, and Mode - tell me?

There are three measures of central tendency; the mean, the median, and the mode. For any item in your survey instrument that includes scale responses (e.g., Strongly Disagree to Strongly Agree, Never to Always), the program data export will provide you with a table of Basic Descriptive Statistics, including measures of Central Tendency. When you are using a scale, each possible response in the scale will be coded with a value that reflects its position on the scale, relative to other responses. These values are used to calculate the measures of Central Tendency as well as the Standard Deviation and Range (see the What do the Standard Deviation and Range tell me?).

The calculations you will see are for the Mean, Median, and Mode. These measures all tell you something about the central value of responses and while they are related, they are distinct and you will want to consider each one differently. All the calculated measures will fall within your scale, i.e., if you used a 5-point scale, all the measures will be between 1.00 and 5.00.

The Mean is the average of the values for all given responses to that item, or the sum the all the values divided by the total Number of Valid Responses (n). Rounding up this Mean to the nearest code, 4, this would tell you that, on average, participants “agreed” with the statement. When you want to discuss in a report or presentation how most people responded to a particular item, the Mean is the measure you will most often report.

However, you will also want to look at the Median and Mode to better understand the set of responses you received. This is especially important as the mean is easily influenced by outliers or extreme values. The Median, or the middle point, will tell you the middle value that separates the higher half of responses from the lower half of responses. Meanwhile, the Mode will tell you the most frequently selected response.

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