Combinatorial EM algorithms

Ian C. Marschner*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    9 Citations (Scopus)


    The complete-data model that underlies an Expectation-Maximization (EM) algorithm must have a parameter space that coincides with the parameter space of the observed-data model. Otherwise, maximization of the observed-data log-likelihood will be carried out over a space that does not coincide with the desired parameter space. In some contexts, however, a natural complete-data model may be defined only for parameter values within a subset of the observed-data parameter space. In this paper we discuss situations where this can still be useful if the complete-data model can be viewed as a member of a finite family of complete-data models that have parameter spaces which collectively cover the observed-data parameter space. Such a family of complete-data models defines a family of EM algorithms which together lead to a finite collection of constrained maxima of the observed-data log-likelihood. Maximization of the log-likelihood function over the full parameter space then involves identifying the constrained maximum that achieves the greatest log-likelihood value. Since optimization over a finite collection of candidates is referred to as combinatorial optimization, we refer to such a family of EM algorithms as a combinatorial EM (CEM) algorithm. As well as discussing the theoretical concepts behind CEM algorithms, we discuss strategies for improving the computational efficiency when the number of complete-data models is large. Various applications of CEM algorithms are also discussed, ranging from simple examples that illustrate the concepts, to more substantive examples that demonstrate the usefulness of CEM algorithms in practice.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)921-940
    Number of pages20
    JournalStatistics and Computing
    Issue number6
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2014


    • Additive models
    • Combinatorial optimization
    • EM algorithm
    • Multiplicative models
    • Parameter constraints
    • Variance heterogeneity


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