The shadow prior

Merrill W. Liechty, John C. Liechty, Peter Müller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


In this article we consider posterior simulation in models with constrained parameter or sampling spaces. Constraints on the support of sampling and prior distributions give rise to a normalization constant in the complete conditional posterior distribution for the (hyper-) parameters of the respective distribution, complicating posterior simulation. To mitigate the problem of evaluating normalization constants, we propose a computational approach based on model augmentation. We include an additional level in the probability model to separate the (hyper-) parameter from the constrained probability model, and we refer to this additional level in the probability model as a shadow prior. This approach can significantly reduce the overall computational burden if the original (hyper-) prior includes a complicated structure, but a simple form is chosen for the shadow prior, for example, if the original prior includes a mixture model or multivariate distribution, and the shadow prior defines a set of shadow parameters that are iid given the (hyper-) parameters. Although introducing the shadow prior changes the posterior inference on the original parameters, we argue that by appropriate choices of the shadow prior, the change is minimal and posterior simulation in the augmented probability model provides a meaningful approximation to the desired inference. Data used in this article are available online.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)368-383
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Computational and Graphical Statistics
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2009

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Statistics and Probability
  • Discrete Mathematics and Combinatorics
  • Statistics, Probability and Uncertainty


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