Note: This is a working paper which will be expanded/updated frequently. All suggestions for improvement are welcome. The directory has a pdf version, the bib files, and the complete Rmd file.

1 Introduction

In (Euclidean, least squares, metric) multidimensional scaling (MDS) we minimize the stress loss function \(\sigma(\bullet)\), defined as \[\begin{equation}\label{E:stress} \sigma(X)=\frac12\mathop{\sum}_{1\leq i<j\leq n}w_{ij}(\delta_{ij}-d_{ij}(X))^2 \end{equation}\] over all configurations \(X\in\mathbb{R}^{n\times p}\), the linear space of \(n\times p\) matrices.

Here \(D(X)=\{d_{ij}(X)\}\) is a matrix of Euclidean distances between the rows of \(X\), i.e. \[ d_{ij}(X)=\sqrt{\sum_{s=1}^p(x_{is}-x_{js})^2}. \] We now introduce some standard MDS notation, following De Leeuw (1977). Define the unit vectors \(e_i\), which have element \(i\) equal to one and all other elements equal to zero. For \(i<j\) define the matrices \[A_{ij}=(e_i-e_j)(e_i-e_j)'.\] Note that \(d_{ij}(X)=\sqrt{\text{tr}\ X'A_{ij}X}\). Next, define the matrix \(V=\{v_{ij}\}\) by \[\begin{equation}\label{E:V} V=\mathop{\sum\sum}_{1\leq i<j\leq n}w_{ij}A_{ij}. \end{equation}\] Also define the matrix valued function \(B(X)=\{b_{ij}(X)\}\) by \[\begin{equation}\label{E:B} B(X)=\mathop{\sum\sum}_{1\leq i<j\leq n}w_{ij}r_{ij}(X)A_{ij} \end{equation}\] where \[ r_{ij}(X)=\begin{cases}\frac{\delta_{ij}}{d_{ij}(X)}&\text{ if }d_{ij}(X)>0,\\ 0&\text{ if }d_{ij}(X)=0. \end{cases} \] We also assume, without loss of generality, that dissimilarities are normalized as \[ \frac12\mathop{\sum\sum}_{1\leq i<j\leq n}w_{ij}\delta_{ij}^2=1. \] Using these definitions and conventions gives \[ \sigma(X)=1-\text{tr}\ X'B(X)X+\frac12\text{tr}\ X'VX, \] and if \(d_{ij}(X)>0\) for all \(i<j\) \[ \mathcal{D}\sigma(X)=(V-B(X))X. \] A configuration is a stationary point if \((V-B(X))X=0\). A stationary point is regular if \(d_{ij}(X)>0\) for all \(i<j\). De Leeuw (1984) shows that local minima are regular stationary points.

2 Main Result

Stationary points can be local minimum points or saddle points. The only local maximum point of stress is at \(X=0\) (De Leeuw (1993)). Among the local minimum points there are one or more global minimum points. A sufficient condition for a local minimum to be global is that at the stationary point we have \(V-B(X)\gtrsim 0\), or \(V^+B(X)\lesssim I\) (De Leeuw (2016)). This is a very restrictive condition which we generally do not expect to to be true. There is, however, a much weaker relation between stationary points and global minima on a subspace.

Theorem 1: [Local-Global] If \(X\in\mathbb{R}^{n\times p}\) is a regular stationary point of the MDS problem then \[ \min_{T\in\mathbb{R}^{p\times p}}\sigma(XT)=\sigma(X). \] Proof: First, observe that \[ d_{ij}(XT)=\sqrt{\text{tr}\ X'A_{ij}XTT'} \] which is the square root of a non-negative linear function of \(S=TT'\), and is consequently concave in \(S\). It follows that \[ \sigma(XT)=1-\text{tr}\ X'B(XT)XS+\frac12\text{tr}\ X'VXS \] is convex in \(S\). From Rockafellar (1970), theorem 31.4, the minimum over \(S\gtrsim 0\) is attained at a unique point where

  1. \(S\gtrsim 0\).
  2. \(X'(V-B(XT))X\gtrsim 0\).
  3. \(\text{tr}\ X'(V-B(XT)X)XS=0\).

But if \(X\) is a stationary point of the MDS problem we have \((V-B(X))X=0\). Thus the minimum over \(S\) is attained at \(S=I\), and the minimum over \(T\) is attained at any rotation matrix \(T\) with \(T'T=TT'=I\), which is what the theorem says. \(\blacksquare\)

The part of theorem 1 where it is shown that \(\sigma(XT)\) has a unique (and thus global) minimum over \(T\) for fixed \(X\) is mentioned in Borg and Groenen (2005), p 283. I merely added the result that the unique minimizer \(T\) is necessarily a rotation matrix if \(X\) is a stationary point. Note that the stationary point \(X\) may be a saddle point, it does not have to be a local minimum point.

An important special case of the theorem is full-dimensional scaling (De Leeuw (1993), De Leeuw, Groenen, and Mair (2016)), in which \(p=n\).

Corollary 1: [Full] If \(X\in\mathbb{R}^{n\times n}\) is a stationary point of the MDS problem then it is the unique global minimum.

Proof: In this case \[ \min_{T\in\mathbb{R}^{n\times n}}\sigma(XT)=\min_{Z\in\mathbb{R}^{n\times p}}\sigma(Z). \] By theorem 1 consequently at a stationary point \(X\) \[ \sigma(X)=\min_{Z\in\mathbb{R}^{n\times p}}\sigma(Z). \] \(\blacksquare\)


Borg, I., and P.J.F. Groenen. 2005. Modern Multidimensional Scaling: Theory and Applications. Second Edition. Springer.

De Leeuw, J. 1977. “Applications of Convex Analysis to Multidimensional Scaling.” In Recent Developments in Statistics, edited by J.R. Barra, F. Brodeau, G. Romier, and B. Van Cutsem, 133–45. Amsterdam, The Netherlands: North Holland Publishing Company.

———. 1984. “Differentiability of Kruskal’s Stress at a Local Minimum.” Psychometrika 49: 111–13.

———. 1993. “Fitting Distances by Least Squares.” Preprint Series 130. Los Angeles, CA: UCLA Department of Statistics.

———. 2016. “Gower Rank.” 2016.

De Leeuw, J., P. Groenen, and P. Mair. 2016. “Full-Dimensional Scaling.” 2016.

Rockafellar, R.T. 1970. Convex Analysis. Princeton University Press.