How to Calculate Cross Correlation in R

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Cross-correlation is an invaluable statistical technique employed to analyze two time series by measuring their similarity as a function of the lag of one relative to the other. This technique is particularly useful in various fields such as signal processing, finance, and image analysis. In this article, we delve into the intricacies of calculating cross-correlation in R.

Introduction to Cross Correlation

Cross-correlation is a statistical measure used to analyze the similarity or correlation between two time series. It helps in determining how much one series is correlated with another as a function of the lag applied to one of them. In simple terms, it is used to find how two sets of data are related to each other and whether there is a time lag in this relationship.

For two discrete time series x and y, the cross-correlation at lag k is defined as:

r(k) = Σ((x[i] – µ_x) * (y[i + k] – µ_y)) / (N * σ_x * σ_y)


  • r(k) is the cross-correlation at lag k.
  • Σ denotes the summation over i.
  • x[i] and y[i + k] are the elements of time series x and y respectively.
  • µ_x and µ_y are the mean values of time series x and y respectively.
  • σ_x and σ_y are the standard deviations of time series x and y respectively.
  • N is the number of elements in each time series.

Essentially, for each value of k, you are computing how similar y is to x when y is shifted k time steps, factoring in the means and standard deviations of both time series.

Generating or Loading Time Series Data in R

To calculate cross-correlation, we require two time series. These can either be synthetically generated or loaded from an existing dataset.

Generating Synthetic Data

Let’s generate synthetic data in R.

# Load the necessary library

# Generate synthetic data
set.seed(42) # for reproducibility
time <- seq(0, 50, by = 0.1)
x <- sin(time) + rnorm(length(time), 0, 0.5)
y <- cos(time) + rnorm(length(time), 0, 0.5)

# Plot the synthetic data
qplot(time, x, geom = "line") + labs(x = "Time", y = "x", title = "Synthetic Time Series X")
qplot(time, y, geom = "line") + labs(x = "Time", y = "y", title = "Synthetic Time Series Y")

Loading Real-world Data

Alternatively, to load real-world time series data from a CSV file.

# Load data from CSV file
data <- read.csv("path_to_your_file.csv")

# Assuming that columns 'x' and 'y' contain the time series
x <- data$x
y <- data$y

Calculating Cross Correlation using R’s Built-in Function

R offers a built-in function called ccf for computing cross-correlation.

# Calculate cross-correlation
ccf_result <- ccf(x, y, lag.max=50, plot=TRUE)

In this example, x and y are the two time series, lag.max specifies the maximum number of lags to compute, and plot indicates whether or not to plot the cross-correlation function.

Interpreting the Results

The ccf function plots the cross-correlation as a function of the lag. Here’s how to interpret the plot:

  1. Peak near zero lag: Indicates that the time series are in phase with each other.
  2. Peak at positive lag: Suggests that time series y follows x.
  3. Peak at negative lag: Suggests that time series x follows y.

Advanced Techniques for Cross-Correlation in R

For a more sophisticated analysis, R provides additional packages and methods.

Detrending the Data

Time series data often contain trends that can affect cross-correlation analysis. The detrend function from the pracma package can be used to remove any linear trend from the data.

# Install and load the pracma package

# Detrending the data
x_detrended <- detrend(x)
y_detrended <- detrend(y)

# Calculate cross-correlation of detrended data
ccf(x_detrended, y_detrended, lag.max=50, plot=TRUE)

Using the ‘forecast’ Package

The forecast package contains a plethora of functions for time series analysis. The Ccf function in the forecast package provides additional functionality compared to the built-in ccf function.

# Install and load the forecast package

# Calculate cross-correlation using Ccf
cross_correlation <- Ccf(x, y, lag.max=50, plot=TRUE)


Cross-correlation is a potent statistical tool for assessing the relationship between two time series. This article has walked you through the process of calculating cross-correlation in R, ranging from data generation to interpretation and advanced analysis. Understanding the principles of cross-correlation and leveraging R’s robust capabilities are crucial for meaningful analysis. Always ensure a careful interpretation of the results for insightful conclusions.

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