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Correlation and Covariance of a Random Signal

Module by: Michael Haag. E-mail the author

Summary: (Blank Abstract)

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When we take the expected value, or average, of a random process, we measure several important characteristics about how the process behaves in general. This proves to be a very important observation. However, suppose we have several random processes measuring different aspects of a system. The relationship between these different processes will also be an important observation. The covariance and correlation are two important tools in finding these relationships. Below we will go into more details as to what these words mean and how these tools are helpful. Note that much of the following discussions refer to just random variables, but keep in mind that these variables can represent random signals or random processes.


To begin with, when dealing with more than one random process, it should be obvious that it would be nice to be able to have a number that could quickly give us an idea of how similiar the processes are. To do this, we use the covariance, which is analagous to the variance of a single variable.

Definition 1: Covariance
A meausre of how much the deviations of two or more variables or processes match.
For two processes, XX and Y Y, if they are not closely related then the covariance will be small, and if they are simliar then the covariance will be large. Let us clarify this statement by describing what we mean by "related" and "similiar." Two processes are "closely related" if their distribution spreads are almost equal and they are around the same, or a very slightly different, mean.

Mathematically, covariance is often written as σ xy σ x y and is defined as

covXY= σ xy =E(XX-)(YY-) cov X Y σ x y E X X Y Y
This can also be reduced and rewritten in the following two forms:
σ xy =(xy)-x-y- σ x y x y x y
σ xy =(XX-)(YY-)fxyd x d y σ x y y x X X Y Y f x y

Useful Properties

  • If XX and YY are independent and uncorrelated or one of them has zero mean value, then σ xy =0 σ x y 0
  • If XX and YY are orthogonal, then σ xy =(EXEY) σ x y E X E Y
  • The covariance is symmetric covXY=covYX cov X Y cov Y X
  • Basic covariance identity covX+YZ=covXZ+covYZ cov X Y Z cov X Z cov Y Z
  • Covariance of equal variables covXX=VarX cov X X Var X


For anyone who has any kind of statisical background, you should be able to see that the idea of dependence/independence among variables and signals plays an important role when dealing with random processes. Because of this, the correlation of two variables provides us with a measure of how the two variables affect one another.

Definition 2: Correlation
A measure of how much one random variable depends upon the other.
This measure of association between the variables will provide us with a clue as to how well the value of one variable can be predicted from the value of the other. The correlation is equal to the average of the product of two random variables and is defined as
corXY=EXY=xyfxyd x d y cor X Y E X Y y x x y f x y

Correlation Coefficient

It is often useful to express the correlation of random variables with a range of numbers, like a percentage. For a given set of variables, we use the correlation coefficient to give us the linear relationship between our variables. The correlation coefficient of two variables is defined in terms of their covariance and standard deviations, denoted by σ x σ x , as seen below

ρ=covXY σ x σ y ρ cov X Y σ x σ y
where we will always have -1ρ1 -1 ρ 1 This provides us with a quick and easy way to view the correlation between our variables. If there is no relationship between the variables then the correlation coefficient will be zero and if there is a perfect positive match it will be one. If there is a perfect inverse relationship, where one set of variables increases while the other decreases, then the correlation coefficient will be negative one. This type of correlation is often referred to more specifically as the Pearson's Correlation Coefficient,or Pearson's Product Moment Correlation.

Figure 1: Types of Correlation
(a) Positive Correlation (b) Negative Correlation (c) Uncorrelated (No Correlation)
Figure 1(a) (corr_inc.png)Figure 1(b) (corr_dec.png)Figure 1(c) (corr_unc.png)


So far we have dealt with correlation simply as a number relating the relationship between any two variables. However, since our goal will be to relate random processes to each other, which deals with signals as a function of time, we will want to continue this study by looking at correlation functions.


Now let us take just a second to look at a simple example that involves calculating the covariance and correlation of two sets of random numbers. We are given the following data sets: x=31634 x 3 1 6 3 4 y=25343 y 2 5 3 4 3 To begin with, for the covariance we will need to find the expected value, or mean, of xx and yy. x-=15(3+1+6+3+4)=3.4 x 1 5 3 1 6 3 4 3.4 y-=15(1+5+3+4+3)=3.2 y 1 5 1 5 3 4 3 3.2 xy-=15(3+5+18+12+12)=10 x y 1 5 3 5 18 12 12 10 Next we will solve for the standard deviations of our two sets using the formula below (for a review click here). σ=EXEX2 σ E X E X 2 σ x =15(.16+5.76+6.76+.16+.36)=1.625 σ x 1 5 .16 5.76 6.76 .16 .36 1.625 σ y =16(4.84+3.24+.04+.64+.04)=1.327 σ y 1 6 4.84 3.24 .04 .64 .04 1.327 Now we can finally calculate the covariance using one of the two formulas found above. Since we calculated the three means, we will use that formula since it will be much simpler. σ xy =10+3.4×3.2=-0.88 σ x y 10 3.4 3.2 -0.88 And for our last calculation, we will solve for the correlation coefficient, ρρ. ρ=-0.881.625×1.327=-0.408 ρ -0.88 1.625 1.327 -0.408

Matlab Code for Example

The above example can be easily calculated using Matlab. Below I have included the code to find all of the values above.

	  x = [3 1 6 3 4];
	  y = [1 5 3 4 3];

	  mx = mean(x)
	  my = mean(y)
	  mxy = mean(x.*y)
	  % Standard Dev. from built-in Matlab Functions

	  % Standard Dev. from Equation Above (same result as std(?,1))
	  sqrt( 1/5 * sum((x-mx).^2))  
	  sqrt( 1/5 * sum((y-my).^2))




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