In a Gaussian mixture model we model a density like:

$p(\mathbf{x}|\pi,\mu,\sigma)=\sum \pi_i N(\mathbf{x}|\mu_i,\sigma_i)$ [1]

where $\pi,\mu$ and $\sigma$ are parameters.

I would like to know if the following model is of any use / has a name.

Let's suppose that $\mathbf{\pi} \sim Dirichlet(\mathbf{\alpha})$, so that the weights of the Gaussian become a random variable. Than instead of [1] we have:

$p(\mathbf{x}|\alpha,\mu,\sigma)=\int d\mathbf{\pi} p(\mathbf{\pi} |\alpha) \sum \pi_i N(\mathbf{x}|\mu_i,\sigma_i)$ [2]

Does it make any sense to use [2] instead of [1] in some setting ? Does this operation make any sense in some setting ?

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    $\begingroup$ Have a look at latent Dirichlet allocation, it’s similar. $\endgroup$ Mar 14, 2021 at 20:46
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    $\begingroup$ Actually I was indeed studying LDA. I read this sentence on the article "It is important to distinguish LDA from a simple Dirichlet-multinomial clustering model. A classical clustering model would involve a two-level model in which a Dirichlet is sampled once for a corpus, a multinomial clustering variable is selected once for each document in the corpus, and a set of words are selected for the document conditional on the cluster variable." and I was trying to understand what they meant in this sentence... $\endgroup$
    – Thomas
    Mar 15, 2021 at 8:16
  • $\begingroup$ Maybe I should rewrite my question explaining what I am trying to understand... $\endgroup$
    – Thomas
    Mar 15, 2021 at 8:17
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    $\begingroup$ When setting a distribution like the Dirichlet distribution on the $\pi_i$'s, the goal is to facilitate the inference on the $\pi_i$'s, not to make them disappear. (This is the principle beyond Bayesian inference.) $\endgroup$
    – Xi'an
    Mar 15, 2021 at 8:25
  • $\begingroup$ @Xi'an thanks I will start first to understand your comment and than relate to the LDA sentence I wanted to understand. Could you please check my answer below ? If it is totally wrong I will remove it, otherwise please feel free to edit and correct. I would like to check my understanding... $\endgroup$
    – Thomas
    Mar 15, 2021 at 13:33

1 Answer 1


Trying to answer Xi'an comment, to check if I am understanding his comment. As far as I am understanding he means that upgrading $\pi$ to random variable would have the meaning of modelling our uncertainty of $\pi$ but not the sampling process of the data points. I try to write this better for exercise.

In the standard setting, when we fit a Gaussian mixtures the $\pi$ are parameters. Let's us suppose $\mu$ and $\sigma$ fixed here and suppose we have $M$ samples. In the usual setting the EM algorithm finds the maximum likelyhood estimate:

$\pi_{MLE}=argmax_{\pi} \ log L(\mathbf{x}|\pi)$

Now instead of treating $\pi$ as a parameter we can upgrade it to a random variable. In order to do this we need to define its probability distribution and relation to $x$. In mathematical terms we need:

  • $P(\mathbf{x}|\pi)$ , that we have ;

  • A prior $P(\pi)$ ;

In order to do this we introduce a parameter $\alpha$ that defines the prior as a Dirchlet distribution and arrive at the graphical model:

enter image description here

which fully defines the joint $P(\mathbf{x},\pi|\alpha)$.

So what did we lose/gain with respect to MLE ?

  1. Still all values of $\pi$ are possible/taken into account. If we condition on the value of $\pi$ we have $P(\mathbf{x}|\pi,\alpha)=P(\mathbf{x}|\pi)$. This is exactly the parametric likelyhood we had before ;

  2. Still we can do inference of the value of $\pi$ by estimating the posterior $P(\pi|\mathbf{x},\alpha)$ ;

  3. As a drawback, we introduced a parameter $\alpha$ which was not present before. Maybe it would make any sense to estimate $\alpha$ by maximizing the marginal likelyhood:

$$S(\alpha)=\int d\pi P(\pi|\alpha)P(\mathbf{x}|\pi)$$

even if this approach seems to suppose that the uncertainty in $\pi$ is related to the sampling process of $\mathbf{x}$. I have the impression that this way we would mix "uncertainties" and "sampling probabilites", but maybe these concepts are so interrelated that can be mixed together.

Actually this approach ( maximum marginal likelyhood ) in some sense is making the $\pi$ variables disappear the way described in the original message (weird...)

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    $\begingroup$ This reflection upon my comment is essentially sound. It is correct that the inference will depend on the choice of the prior (hyper)parameter $\alpha$, that the MAP will differ from the MLE, and that $\alpha$ could be estimated from the marginal likelihood: the later technique is called empirical Bayes estimation and was proposed by Robbins in the 1950's. A description can be found in some Bayesian textbooks like Carlin and Louis (1992) or mine. $\endgroup$
    – Xi'an
    Mar 15, 2021 at 13:47
  • $\begingroup$ Great thanks for your feedback and suggestions $\endgroup$
    – Thomas
    Mar 15, 2021 at 14:03

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