What Type of Data Is Used in PCA?


Heather Bennett

When performing Principal Component Analysis (PCA), it is essential to understand the type of data that can be used. PCA is a statistical technique used to reduce the dimensionality of a dataset while retaining as much information as possible. This technique works by transforming a large number of variables into a smaller set of uncorrelated variables known as principal components.

What types of data can be used in PCA?

PCA can be applied to different types of data, including:

Numerical Data:
Numerical data is the most commonly used type of data in PCA. It consists of quantitative variables that can be measured on a continuous scale.

Examples include temperature, height, weight, and sales figures. Numerical data allows for mathematical operations such as addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division.

Categorical Data:
Categorical data consists of variables that represent categories or groups. These variables cannot be measured on a continuous scale but rather represent different classes or labels. Examples include gender (male/female), marital status (single/married/divorced), and educational level (high school/college/graduate).

It is important to note that categorical data cannot be directly used in PCA since it requires numerical inputs. However, there are methods to convert categorical variables into numerical ones before applying PCA.

Ordinal Data:
Ordinal data is similar to categorical data but has an inherent order or ranking among its values. These variables represent ordered categories and allow for comparisons in terms of greater than or less than relationships. Examples include ratings on a 1-5 scale (poor-fair-good-excellent) or survey responses with Likert scales.

Similar to categorical data, ordinal data needs to be transformed into a numerical representation before applying PCA.

Missing Data:
In real-world datasets, it is common to encounter missing values where certain observations have incomplete information for specific variables. Handling missing data is crucial in PCA since it can significantly affect the results. Various techniques, such as imputation or deletion, can be used to deal with missing values before performing PCA.


In summary, Principal Component Analysis (PCA) can be applied to different types of data, including numerical data, categorical data (after converting to numerical representation), ordinal data (also after conversion), and datasets with missing values. Understanding the type of data you are working with is essential for successfully applying PCA and gaining meaningful insights from your analysis.

Now that you have a clear understanding of what types of data are used in PCA, you can proceed with confidence when performing dimensionality reduction on your own datasets.

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