For scalar variables $x$, we have a simple solution for the following problem. \begin{eqnarray} \min_x&&\alpha(x-a)^2+\beta(x-b)^2 \\\ \mathrm{s.t. }&&x\leq a\\\ &&x\leq b \end{eqnarray} where $\alpha,\beta>0$.

The optimal solution $x=\min(a,b)$ is straightforward and independent of $\alpha,\beta$.

However, in the case of real symmetrical matrix variables, the problem seems to be much more complex because the relationship $\leq$ in constraints has to be replaced with $\preceq$ which is a more complex relationship defined as $$ A\preceq B\Leftrightarrow A-B\preceq0 $$ where $A\preceq0$ means $A$ is negative semi-definite.

Then the problem above is reformulated as following with matrix variables. Assume that all matrices in this problem are real symmetrical. \begin{eqnarray} \min_X&&\alpha\|X-A\|_F^2+\beta\|X-B\|_F^2\\\ \mathrm{s.t.}&&X\preceq A\\\ &&X\preceq B \end{eqnarray} where $\alpha,\beta\geq0$.

If $A$ and $B$ can be diagonalized by the same orthogonal matrix $U$, the problem reduces to a the problems of eigenvalues since $$ \alpha\|X-A\|_F^2+\beta\|X-B\|_F^2=\alpha\|\tilde{X}-\Lambda\|_F^2+\beta\|\tilde{X}-\Theta\|_F^2 $$ and \begin{eqnarray} X\preceq A\Leftrightarrow\tilde{X}\preceq\Lambda\\\ Y\preceq B\Leftrightarrow\tilde{X}\preceq\Theta \end{eqnarray} where $\tilde{X}=U^\top XU$, $\Lambda=U^\top AU$, $\Theta=U^\top BU$. Since $\Lambda$ and $\Theta$ are diagonal matrices, the problem can decompose to sum of some scalar variables and solved independently.

However, how to solve it if $A$ and $B$ have different eigenvectors? Is the solution independent of $\alpha$ and $\beta$ yet?

Could any one be so kind to help me with the question or give some suggestions? Thank you very much!

  • $\begingroup$ The solutions are not independent of $\alpha$ and $\beta$; I just solved it numerically for various choices of the variables, obtaining differing solution values (also note, in particular, if $\alpha=\beta=0$ then we have an infinity of feasible solutions. $\endgroup$
    – Suvrit
    Commented Feb 22, 2012 at 0:20
  • $\begingroup$ @Suvrit, thanks for your attention and experiments! $\endgroup$
    – ppyang
    Commented Feb 22, 2012 at 2:38

1 Answer 1


I looked at the problem again and saw that it can be simplified nicely.

In summary:

  1. If $\alpha, \beta > 0$, the solution is independent of $\alpha$ and $\beta$
  2. The solution can be easily computed (one eigenvector decomposition is needed)


Introduce the variables $X=B+C$ and $Z=A-B$. We optimize over the symmetric matrix $C$ instead. With this change of variables, the problem becomes \begin{eqnarray*} \min_{C}\quad &\alpha\|C-Z\|^2 + \beta\|C\|^2\\\\ &C \preceq Z,\quad C \preceq 0. \end{eqnarray*} Let $Z=U\Lambda U^T$, and use the unitary invariance of the Frobenius norm to replace the problem by \begin{eqnarray*} \min_{D}\quad\alpha\|D-\Lambda\|^2 + \beta\|D\|^2\\\\ D \preceq \Lambda,\quad D \preceq 0. \end{eqnarray*} Clearly, $D$ must be diagonal. In which case, the problem splits and we see that \begin{equation*} d_{ii} = \min(0, \lambda_{ii}) \end{equation*} Thus, eventually, we obtain $X=B+UDU^T$ as the optimal answer.

  • $\begingroup$ It's so beautiful to use the substitution to uncover the optimal eigenvectors, which enables to split the complex problem of matrix into several simple sub-problems of eigenvalue. Thank you very much for your help! $\endgroup$
    – ppyang
    Commented Feb 23, 2012 at 6:19

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