Optimal Whitening and Decorrelation



    Whitening, or sphering, is a common preprocessing step in statistical analysis to transform random variables to orthogonality. However, due to rotational freedom there are infinitely many possible whitening procedures. Consequently, there is a diverse range of sphering methods in use, for example based on principal component analysis (PCA), Cholesky matrix decomposition and zero-phase component analysis (ZCA), among others. Here we provide an overview of the underlying theory and discuss five natural whitening procedures. Subsequently, we demonstrate that investigating the cross-covariance and the cross-correlation matrix between sphered and original variables allows to break the rotational invariance and to identify optimal whitening transformations. As a result we recommend two particular approaches: ZCA-cor whitening to produce sphered variables that are maximally similar to the original variables, and PCA-cor whitening to obtain sphered variables that maximally compress the original variables.
    Date made available19 Jan 2017


    • Whitening
    • decorrelation
    • ZCA-Mahalanobis transformation
    • principal components analysis
    • Cholesky decomposition
    • CAT score
    • CAR score

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