Quadratic form (statistics)

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In multivariate statistics, if is a vector of random variables, and is an -dimensional symmetric matrix, then the scalar quantity is known as a quadratic form in .


It can be shown that[1]

where and are the expected value and variance-covariance matrix of , respectively, and tr denotes the trace of a matrix. This result only depends on the existence of and ; in particular, normality of is not required.

A book treatment of the topic of quadratic forms in random variables is [2]


Since the quadratic form is a scalar quantity . Note that both and are linear operators, so . It follows that

and that, by the cyclic property of the trace operator,


In general, the variance of a quadratic form depends greatly on the distribution of . However, if does follow a multivariate normal distribution, the variance of the quadratic form becomes particularly tractable. Assume for the moment that is a symmetric matrix. Then,

In fact, this can be generalized to find the covariance between two quadratic forms on the same (once again, and must both be symmetric):

Computing the variance in the non-symmetric case[edit]

Some texts incorrectly state that the above variance or covariance results hold without requiring to be symmetric. The case for general can be derived by noting that


But this is a quadratic form in the symmetric matrix , so the mean and variance expressions are the same, provided is replaced by therein.

Examples of quadratic forms[edit]

In the setting where one has a set of observations and an operator matrix , then the residual sum of squares can be written as a quadratic form in :

For procedures where the matrix is symmetric and idempotent, and the errors are Gaussian with covariance matrix , has a chi-squared distribution with degrees of freedom and noncentrality parameter , where

may be found by matching the first two central moments of a noncentral chi-squared random variable to the expressions given in the first two sections. If estimates with no bias, then the noncentrality is zero and follows a central chi-squared distribution.


  1. ^ Douglas, Bates. "Quadratic Forms of Random Variables" (PDF). STAT 849 lectures. Retrieved August 21, 2011. 
  2. ^ Mathai, A. M. & Provost, Serge B. (1992). Quadratic Forms in Random Variables. CRC Press. p. 424. ISBN 978-0824786915. 

See also[edit]