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I want to generate some signals that have a correlation distribution around a specific pre-defined correlation value (i.e., the distribution of the values of their correlation matrix is around a specific expected value (rho)).

For example, for rho = 0.5, if I want to build some signals X_synthetic that their correlation matrix is cor_matrix, then the values in np.corrcoef(X_synthetic) should all be around 0.5. So the histogram will be around 0.5 in that case.

Example to achieve this for a positive rho value:

import numpy as np

#desired expected rho (of the distribution of the corr matrix)
rho = 0.5

# desired correlation matrix
cor_matrix = np.ones((5,5))* rho
np.fill_diagonal(cor_matrix,1) # 1s in diagonal
print(cor_matrix)

# this is artificial case but it will result in the derired distribution.
array([[1. , 0.5, 0.5, 0.5, 0.5],
       [0.5, 1. , 0.5, 0.5, 0.5],
       [0.5, 0.5, 1. , 0.5, 0.5],
       [0.5, 0.5, 0.5, 1. , 0.5],
       [0.5, 0.5, 0.5, 0.5, 1. ]])


L = np.linalg.cholesky(cor_matrix)

# build some signals that will result in the desired correlation matrix
X_synthetic = L.dot(np.random.normal(0,1, (5,2000)))

# estimate their correlation matrix
np.corrcoef(X_synthetic)

array([[1.        , 0.50576661, 0.51472813, 0.47208374, 0.49260528],
       [0.50576661, 1.        , 0.4798111 , 0.48540114, 0.47225243],
       [0.51472813, 0.4798111 , 1.        , 0.4649033 , 0.4745259 ],
       [0.47208374, 0.48540114, 0.4649033 , 1.        , 0.50059795],
       [0.49260528, 0.47225243, 0.4745259 , 0.50059795, 1.        ]])

#* Very good approximation. All values are fluctuating around 0.5.
#* So the distribution of the correlation values of `X_synthetic` is around the expected value `0.5`.

Now, I want to do the same, but the values of np.corrcoef(X_synthetic) should all be around -0.3 so that the histogram would be around -0.3 in that case.

#desired expected rho (of the distribution of the corr matrix)
rho = -0.3

# desired correlation matrix
cor_matrix = np.ones((5,5))* rho
np.fill_diagonal(cor_matrix,1) # 1s in diagonal
print(cor_matrix)

array([[ 1. , -0.3, -0.3, -0.3, -0.3],
       [-0.3,  1. , -0.3, -0.3, -0.3],
       [-0.3, -0.3,  1. , -0.3, -0.3],
       [-0.3, -0.3, -0.3,  1. , -0.3],
       [-0.3, -0.3, -0.3, -0.3,  1. ]])


L = np.linalg.cholesky(cor_matrix) # fails

X_synthetic = L.dot(np.random.normal(0,1, (5,2000)))

The cholesky will fail and raise LinAlgError: Matrix is not positive definite.

I understand that this is not a realistic case, but in practice, I want to build cor_matrix in a way such as the X_synthetic signals would have a correlation matrix with values varying around -0.3, similarly to the case of 0.5 as shown above.

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  • $\begingroup$ Just because signals are negatively correlated does not mean the correlation matrix is not positive definite! See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Definiteness_of_a_matrix for the definition of "positive definite". In your case, you have created an impossible correlation matrix; no data can actually have that correlation structure. See stats.stackexchange.com/questions/69114/… for more. $\endgroup$ – jbowman Feb 21 at 20:49
  • $\begingroup$ Given your specified covariance matrix, the sum of the three random variables would have variance -1 (which is obviously impossible). So you have just proposed an impossible covariance matrix -- no random variables could have this covariance. $\endgroup$ – josliber Feb 21 at 20:53
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for the replies. I have edited my question. The whole point is that I want to generate some signals that have an pre-defined expected correlation value, i.e., the mean of the histogram of their correlation matrix is around a given value. I can do that for positive values but cannot find a way for negative values. $\endgroup$ – makis Feb 21 at 21:22
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    $\begingroup$ @makis What you are asking us to simulate is impossible -- a set of 5 random variables cannot have correlation -0.5 between each pair. That is what the error means -- you're asking for an impossible correlation matrix. It's not a numerical or computational issue -- you are asking for something that is mathematically impossible for any set of 5 random variables. Try instead with -0.1 instead of -0.5 for the off-diagonal entries -- you will see that this is possible and that your code works fine. $\endgroup$ – josliber Feb 21 at 21:44
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    $\begingroup$ By the way this doesn't only happen with negative correlations. An example would be array([[1.0, 0.9, 0.9], [0.9, 1.0, 0.1], [0.9, 0.1, 1.0]]). If A and B have correlation 0.9 and A and C have correlation 0.9, then it's impossible for B and C to have correlation of only 0.1 -- it must be higher. In short it takes more than correlations between -1.0 and 1.0 for a correlation matrix to be possible -- "Matrix is not positive definite" means your correlation matrix is not possible. $\endgroup$ – josliber Feb 21 at 21:50
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Ultimately you are asking how to sample from a $d$-dimensional random variable with the following correlation matrix (for some fixed $\rho$):

$$ V = \left[\begin{array}{cccc} 1 & \rho & \cdots & \rho \\ \rho & 1 & \cdots & \rho \\ \cdots & \cdots & \cdots & \cdots \\ \rho & \rho & \cdots & 1\end{array}\right] $$

As you note, your sample correlation will not exactly equal $V$, but it should be close for a sufficiently large sample size.

Any correlation matrix $V$ must be positive semidefinite, and your approach to sampling from a multivariate normal distribution via Cholesky decomposition requires $V$ to be positive definite. A simple application of the matrix determinant lemma tells us that $V$ has determinant $(1+\rho(d-1))(1-\rho)^{d-1}$; Sylvester's criterion tells us that $V$ is positive definite for $\frac{-1}{d-1} < \rho < 1$ and positive semidefinite for $\frac{-1}{d-1} \leq \rho \leq 1$.

The cause for your error is clear -- you are attempting to define $V$ with $d=5$ and $\rho=-0.3$, but this yields a matrix $V$ that is not positive semidefinite (and therefore not a valid correlation matrix). No 5-dimensional random variable has pairwise correlations of -0.3 -- 5-dimensional random variables with all pairwise correlations equal can only have correlations $-0.25\leq \rho\leq 1$ (and your approach with Cholesky decomposition will only work for $-0.25 < \rho < 1$). So ultimately you won't be able to draw a 5-dimensional sample with all pairwise correlations very close to -0.3 -- this is mathematically impossible.

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  • $\begingroup$ Great answer. Now I understand my problem. One last question to make sure I get it. In my code I use np.random.normal(0,1, (5,2000)) so that I get N=5 signals with d=2000 samples. So 5 signals each having 2000 values (elements). The correlation matrix of these 5 signals will then be 5x5 since I have 5 signals in that case. In your answer, I guess d refers to the number of signals right? Like here: dsprelated.com/showarticle/1241.php $\endgroup$ – makis Feb 22 at 12:05
  • $\begingroup$ @makis correct -- $d$ here is the number of signals. $\endgroup$ – josliber Feb 22 at 12:44

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