The Annals of Statistics

Bayesian estimation of sparse signals with a continuous spike-and-slab prior

Veronika Ročková

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We introduce a new framework for estimation of sparse normal means, bridging the gap between popular frequentist strategies (LASSO) and popular Bayesian strategies (spike-and-slab). The main thrust of this paper is to introduce the family of Spike-and-Slab LASSO (SS-LASSO) priors, which form a continuum between the Laplace prior and the point-mass spike-and-slab prior. We establish several appealing frequentist properties of SS-LASSO priors, contrasting them with these two limiting cases. First, we adopt the penalized likelihood perspective on Bayesian modal estimation and introduce the framework of Bayesian penalty mixing with spike-and-slab priors. We show that the SS-LASSO global posterior mode is (near) minimax rate-optimal under squared error loss, similarly as the LASSO. Going further, we introduce an adaptive two-step estimator which can achieve provably sharper performance than the LASSO. Second, we show that the whole posterior keeps pace with the global mode and concentrates at the (near) minimax rate, a property that is known \textsl{not to hold} for the single Laplace prior. The minimax-rate optimality is obtained with a suitable class of independent product priors (for known levels of sparsity) as well as with dependent mixing priors (adapting to the unknown levels of sparsity). Up to now, the rate-optimal posterior concentration has been established only for spike-and-slab priors with a point mass at zero. Thus, the SS-LASSO priors, despite being continuous, possess similar optimality properties as the “theoretically ideal” point-mass mixtures. These results provide valuable theoretical justification for our proposed class of priors, underpinning their intuitive appeal and practical potential.

Article information

Ann. Statist., Volume 46, Number 1 (2018), 401-437.

Received: May 2015
Revised: February 2017
First available in Project Euclid: 22 February 2018

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Digital Object Identifier

Mathematical Reviews number (MathSciNet)

Zentralblatt MATH identifier

Primary: 62J99: None of the above, but in this section
Secondary: 62F15: Bayesian inference

Asymptotic minimaxity LASSO posterior concentration spike-and-slab


Ročková, Veronika. Bayesian estimation of sparse signals with a continuous spike-and-slab prior. Ann. Statist. 46 (2018), no. 1, 401--437. doi:10.1214/17-AOS1554.

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Supplemental materials

  • Supplement to “Bayesian estimation of sparse signals with a continuous spike-and-slab prior”. Supplement contains proofs of Section 4.