$R^2$ equals the "amount of variance explained by the model".

However, we rarely use variance in descriptive statistics. We say a sample's weight is 78 ± 13 kg, which is $\bar x$ ± $\sigma$ (stdev), not $\bar x$ ± $\sigma^2$ (variance). This is because the standard deviation is in the same scale as the variable and is easier to understand than variance.

Thus my question: why don't we use "amount of standard deviation explained by the model"? Wouldn't you get it with $\sqrt{R^2}$? In my opinion, this would be much more intuitive to understand.

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  • $\begingroup$ I think because $R^2$ is nicely differentiable and more easy to deal with instead of $R$. $\endgroup$
    – Allan
    Aug 4 at 18:08
  • $\begingroup$ @Allan What does "more easy to deal with" mean? Also: Welcome, J. Park! $\endgroup$
    – Alexis
    Aug 4 at 18:31
  • $\begingroup$ @Alexis, I mean that is differentiable, so if use want to use $R^2$ a an objective function is more easily to compute the derivatives and apply numerical methods, for example, gradient descent. $\endgroup$
    – Allan
    Aug 4 at 18:39
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Variances add; standard deviations don't. $\endgroup$
    – whuber
    Aug 4 at 18:57
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Bernhard Right--that's one of the implications. $\endgroup$
    – whuber
    Aug 4 at 19:38

1 Answer 1


$R^2$ has several equivalent definitions. One is the squared correlation between the $x$ and $y$ variables in a simple linear regression. One is the squared correlation between the true values of $y$ and the predicted values; this has an advantage of working for multiple linear regression.

The definition that seems best-motivated to me involves the decomposition of the total sum of squares (SST) into the regression sum of squares (SSReg) and the residual sum of squares (SSRes). This $1-\frac{SSRes}{SST}$ expression can be considered on its own without thinking about the above two squared correlations. I think of that as a comparison of the performance of the fitted model to a naïve model that always predicts $\bar y$, no matter the feature values. Perhaps we could write $C=1-\frac{SSRes}{SST}$. However, it turns out that $C$ is equal to the above two squared correlations, so it has been given the name $R^2$.


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