Measuring model complexity with the prior predictive

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 22 (NIPS 2009)

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Wolf Vanpaemel


In the last few decades, model complexity has received a lot of press. While many methods have been proposed that jointly measure a model’s descriptive adequacy and its complexity, few measures exist that measure complexity in itself. Moreover, existing measures ignore the parameter prior, which is an inherent part of the model and affects the complexity. This paper presents a stand alone measure for model complexity, that takes the number of parameters, the functional form, the range of the parameters and the parameter prior into account. This Prior Predictive Complexity (PPC) is an intuitive and easy to compute measure. It starts from the observation that model complexity is the property of the model that enables it to fit a wide range of outcomes. The PPC then measures how wide this range exactly is.