If $x(n)$ is a stationary random process (let say small 20ms window of speech which can be assumed stationary) and $v(n)$ is said to be uncorrelated noise, can we say that cross correlation of $x(n)$ and $v(n)$ is always zero, for all lags? E.g.

$$r_{xv}(\tau) = E\{x(n) v(n+\tau)\} = 0, \forall \tau$$


$$\sum_{n=0}^{N}x(n) v(n+\tau) = 0, \forall \tau$$

where N is the signal length?

  • $\begingroup$ the two equations say different things – the second one is missing an expectation ($E\{\}$) somewhere, isn't it? Also, the first one is for continous signals, and the second seems to only concern fixed sampling points for $x$; are you sure the $\tau$ is supposed to be the same in both cases? From what do you take $\tau$, is it $\in \mathbb N$ or $\in \mathbb R$, or even something with a higher dimension? $\endgroup$ Oct 10, 2016 at 12:34
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    $\begingroup$ other than that, what is the definition of "uncorrelated"? And: to what is the noise uncorrelated? Itself? The Signal? $\endgroup$ Oct 10, 2016 at 12:37
  • $\begingroup$ In the first eq., I meant sum of element by element multiplication by $E\{\cdot\}$, that is usual for random discrete signals in signal processing, right? So in my understanding, second equation is equivalent to the first, considering $x(n)$ and $v(n)$ both are discrete stationary random signal. So, the question is, if you shift a random noise signal, it should still be a random noise. So, cross correlation $r_{xv}$ should be zero across all lags (e.g. cross PSD should be zero). However, if you use xcorr function in matlab (which plots correlation for all lags), you will not see a zero plot. $\endgroup$
    – ILT
    Oct 10, 2016 at 22:19
  • $\begingroup$ Just to clarify, I meant the noise is uncorrelated with the signal. $\endgroup$
    – ILT
    Oct 10, 2016 at 23:11
  • $\begingroup$ then, what is the mathematical definition of the sentence "noise $v$ is uncorrelated with signal $x$"? $\endgroup$ Oct 11, 2016 at 6:48

1 Answer 1


As Marcus alludes to in the comments on the question, you are using two different definitions of cross-correlation.

The first definition of cross-correlation, the statistical one, is: $$r_{xv}(\tau) = E\{x(n) v(n+\tau)\} = 0, \forall \tau\tag{1}$$ where, the expectation operator means: $$ E\{ z \} = \int_{-\infty}^{+\infty} z p_z(z) dz \tag{2} $$ where $p_z(z)$ is the probability density function of the random variable argument of $E\{ \cdot \}$, z in equation (2). Equation (2) is sometimes called the ensemble average of $z$.

It is true that if $x$ and $v$ are uncorrelated, then (1) is true.

The second definition in equation (3) (or the normalized version of it) is what we usually use because we don't know what $p_z(z)$ is. In order to use the second definition, we have to make various assumptions about the relationship between $x$ and $v$, one of which is ergodicity (that time-averages of one realization of each can be substituted for the ensemble averages).

$$\sum_{n=0}^{N}x(n) v(n+\tau) = 0, \forall \tau \tag{3}$$

The normalized version is: $$\frac{1}{N}\sum_{n=0}^{N}x(n) v(n+\tau) = 0, \forall \tau \tag{4}$$

Now we are using time averages to find the cross-correlation. For any given realization of $x$ and $v$, we are not guaranteed that equation (3) ( or (4)) is true.

However, what generally happens is that the mathematics surrounding any theory using cross-correlation uses (1) while the implementation uses (3).

That is why implementations of cross-correlation, such as xcorr in Matlab, do not output a vector of zeros with uncorrelated input time series.

The confusion about cross-correlation seems to be widespread. As @msm notes in the comments, the Wikipedia page for cross-correlation makes no mention of its statistical origins.

The whole point of correlation (either auto or cross) is to see how similar one signal is to another, at various time-lags. For the auto-correlation case, the aim is to see how "predictable" the signal is --- knowing the values up until sample $n$, how much can I say about the sample values after time $n$ before they occur?

Let's start with a Wikipedia page that hasn't forgotten these origins.

This page starts with the original version of normalized correlation: $$ \rho_{XY} = \frac{\textrm{cov}(X,Y)}{\sigma_X\sigma_Y} = \frac{E[(X - \mu_X)(Y - \mu_Y)]}{\sigma_X\sigma_Y} $$

This is another point of confusion for many: staticians generally require that the correlation is normalized to being between -1 and +1. Signal processing engineers tend to do away with this requirement.

The trouble with $\rho_{XY}$ as defined above is that, as in the earlier part of my answer, taking the expectation requires knowledge of the statistical properties of the signals, which we often don't have or have to guess.

That is why the actual cross-correlation is usually substituted for the sample cross-correlation: $$ r_{XY} = \frac{\displaystyle\sum_{n=1}^{N} (x_n - \bar{x}) (y_n - \bar{y})}{n s_X s_Y} $$ where $s_X$ and $s_Y$ are the sample standard deviations and $\bar{x}$ and $\bar{y}$ are the sample means.

  • $\begingroup$ Hi Peter, thanks a lot for a perfect and clear answer. Now that you confirmed (I guessed that before, but was not 100% sure), in theory we use equation (1) and in implementation we use equation (3), any assumption that cross PSD (which is just FT of correlation) is zero accross frequency band, will be errorneous because that would require a zero cross correlation accross all lags. Is my understanding correct? Thanks. $\endgroup$
    – ILT
    Oct 10, 2016 at 23:05
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    $\begingroup$ @ILT : Again there will be a difference between theory and practice: the cross PSD in theory should be zero; in practice the calculated one will be noise. $\endgroup$
    – Peter K.
    Oct 10, 2016 at 23:21
  • $\begingroup$ Just to clarify, $(1)$ is not a "definition of cross-correlation". For a correct definition, please see this: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cross-correlation $\endgroup$
    – msm
    Oct 11, 2016 at 0:43
  • $\begingroup$ @msm In this instance, Wikipedia is wrong. $\endgroup$
    – Peter K.
    Oct 11, 2016 at 0:46
  • $\begingroup$ Just to make sure, you insist that $$r_{xv}(\tau) = E\{x(n) v(n+\tau)\} = 0, \forall \tau$$ is the definition of cross correlation (it is equal to zero for all $\tau$) and Wikipedia is wrong. Right? $\endgroup$
    – msm
    Oct 11, 2016 at 0:53

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