I am confused with the likelihood for simple linear regression, in this note it says

$$ \large \prod_{i=1}^n p(y_i \mid x_i; \beta_0,\beta_1,\sigma^2) = \prod_{i=1}^n \frac 1 {\sqrt{2\pi\sigma^2}} e^{-\frac{(y_i -(\beta_0 + \beta_1 x_i))^2}{2\sigma^2}} $$

But I do not understand why.

Let's simplify the problem that, we only have $1$ data point, where error is $\varepsilon_1=2$, should $P(\varepsilon=2)=0$? Since $\varepsilon$ is a continuous distribution? To make it non-zero, should we add make something like $P(1.999\leq\varepsilon\leq2.001)$ ?

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Likelihood is not (in general) probability -- in spite of the suggestive appearance of the symbol $p$ there, you're dealing with products of densities, not probabilities. $\endgroup$ – Glen_b Feb 23 '17 at 4:17
  • $\begingroup$ @Glen_b thanks for educating me. I learned the likelihood from discrete case, which is why I am asking this question. Could you give me a reference on how likelihood is formally defined? $\endgroup$ – hxd1011 Feb 23 '17 at 4:22
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ To an extent it depends on who is doing the defining (e.g. some people would define $L(\theta)= f(\mathbf{x};\theta)$; some will say that he likelihood is only defined up to a constant of proportionality and so replace $=$ with $\propto$). For a simple regression the expression you have above is fine; the problem is more interpreting what it says. Is the definition here sufficient for your purposes? $\endgroup$ – Glen_b Feb 23 '17 at 4:56
  • $\begingroup$ @Glen_b thanks for answering my question. Now, I have no doubts. May be should ask the definition of likelihood function instead of getting linear regression involved. $\endgroup$ – hxd1011 Feb 23 '17 at 5:02
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ It would be a duplicate (likely several times over) ... e.g. stats.stackexchange.com/questions/29682/… $\endgroup$ – Glen_b Feb 23 '17 at 5:07

The error $\varepsilon_1$ is random AND unobservable. Before you see your data, it follows a mean zero normal distribution (continuous random variable). After you see your data, it follows $p(\varepsilon_1|y_1) = \delta_{y_1 - \beta_0 - \beta_1 x_1}(\cdot)$ (discrete random variable). The latter is not "nice," and you can't really do anything with it because you don't have the dataset $\varepsilon_1, \ldots, \varepsilon_n$ in addition to your $Y$ and $X$ data. So when you say, "where error is $\varepsilon_1 = 2$", that isn't the supposition that is going to elucidate anything for you.

Now, assuming that you actually did observe an $\varepsilon_1$, (which is impossible), and let's say the value was $2$, like you say. This is no longer random. Many books go from upper case to lower case to convey this, but for this particular Greek letter, it's difficult. $P(\varepsilon_1=2) = 0$, yes, but this is asking a question before you observe your $\varepsilon_1$. There is no probability after you see an outcome, so don't use any $P(\cdot)$.

Here's a better way to think about it. For this setup you have posted in your question, picture two columns of data in an Excel spreadsheet or csv file. Your first column will be $y_1,\ldots,y_n$, and your second column will be $x_1, \ldots, x_n$. I am writing these in lowercase because these data are not random anymore, since you already see specific fixed values.

Your above model is equivalent to assuming each of the $Y_i$s (before you see your data for them) are independent from one another, and that their probability distributions only differ by having different means. You're assuming that, before you observe your $Y$ data, if you have some information $x_1, \ldots, x_n$, then you have different normal distributions for each $Y_1, \ldots, Y_n$. In other words, all rows are mutually independent, and for each row of data $i$ $$ Y_i\mid X_i=x_i \sim \text{Normal}(\beta_0 + \beta_1 x_i, \sigma^2). $$

Because they are independent $$ p(y_1,\ldots,y_n;\beta_0,\beta_1,\sigma^2) = p(y_1;\beta_0,\beta_1,\sigma^2)\cdots p(y_n;\beta_0,\beta_1,\sigma^2), \tag{1} $$ or the joint density for your first column factors, and each $p(y_i)$ is normal with the same variance, but they all have potentially different means which depend linearly on their corresponding $x_i$s.

But then you have your data for the $Y$s: $y_1,\ldots,y_n$. So you can evaluate your joint density/likelihood (1), and move around $\theta = (\beta_0,\beta_1,\sigma^2)$ until you get good parameters (think maximum likelihood or restricted maximum likelihood or least squares).

  • $\begingroup$ Could you tell me more about the $\delta$ expression? $\endgroup$ – hxd1011 Feb 23 '17 at 1:52
  • $\begingroup$ @hxd1011 $\delta_{x}(A) = 1$ if $x \in A$, and $0$ otherwise ($A$ is a set). It's the measure to denote the discrete random variable $X$ that puts all of it's probabillity/mass on the point $x$. $\endgroup$ – Taylor Feb 23 '17 at 1:54
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks!, could you also give me some book reference on how people define likelihood using $\delta$ notation? $\endgroup$ – hxd1011 Feb 23 '17 at 2:24
  • $\begingroup$ If find the notation $\text{“} Y_1\mid X_1=x_1, \ldots, Y_n\mid X_n=x_n \text{''}$ rather odd. If you're saying that in the conditional distribution of several random variables given a certain event, they are independent, then you are talking about a joint distribution, not just several separate distributions, so you'd have to be conditioning them all on the same event. I'd write $Y_1,\ldots, Y_n \mid X_1=x_1,\ldots, X_n=x_n \sim \cdots\cdots.$ $\endgroup$ – Michael Hardy Feb 23 '17 at 2:35
  • $\begingroup$ @MichaelHardy I'm thinking of them as separate random variables, though. It is odd, but I am trying to convey the connection between the iid situation. But I do agree with you. $\endgroup$ – Taylor Feb 23 '17 at 2:38

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.