I am looking for a comparison of different regression tree node splitting approaches within the random forest framework. I am looking at the trade-off between ensemble accuracy/reliability (holding forest size constant) and computational complexity of the split since I deal with large datasets.

The standard approach is to minimise $$\sum_{i \in \text{Region}_1} (y_i - \text{mean}(y_i)_{\text{Region}_1})^2 +\sum_{i \in \text{Region}_2} (y_i - \text{mean}(y_i)_{\text{Region}_2})^2$$ But another approach I have seen in a PhD thesis which drastically reduces the computational complexity is to look at the average of $$\frac{(\sum_{i \in \text{Region}_1} y_i)^2}{(\text{Cardinality of Region}_1)}$$ versus the same for $\text{Region}_2$; this allows me to use a running sum of $y_i$.


1 Answer 1


You can compute variance with the same cost as the averages. Simply put you have to use an on-line version of algorithm for computing variance. It is crystal clear explained on an article of John D. Cook. I used myself this online computing for a regression tree - split numeric method where I use an online computation of variance. I used to compute 2 running statistics, one starting from left and another one starting from right. It is possible to do that in a single step, I considered however that multiplication by a constant, gives also linear time and that does not bother me.

For more information you can take a look on Wikipedia also.

  • $\begingroup$ Very nice. What do you mean by 'constant time'. Wouldn't it be linear time? $\endgroup$
    – Jase
    Feb 5, 2014 at 7:34
  • $\begingroup$ Sorry, I was meaning multiplication by a constant time, since I compute 2 running statistics. I will correct that in the answer. $\endgroup$
    – rapaio
    Feb 5, 2014 at 7:39
  • $\begingroup$ How do you handle the large amounts of noise in the variance estimate in the first few iterations (whether starting from front or back of the vector)? $\endgroup$
    – Jase
    Feb 6, 2014 at 15:12
  • $\begingroup$ @Jase I do not have an answer. What I usually do in practice is to adjust the parameter which decides the minimum number of instances in a node. If there is plenty of data, then is no problem to have a large value for this minimum. If it is not, then I try to take a look at my data and understand from the underlying distribution which would be a proper value for this parameter. I imagine that one could automate that by trying to estimate a confidence interval for the variance estimation, but I never tried to work on that. $\endgroup$
    – rapaio
    Feb 6, 2014 at 16:07
  • $\begingroup$ The 'regression tree.' link is invalid. $\endgroup$
    – tidy
    Jan 29, 2015 at 3:37

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