Database Theory — ICDT 2001

Volume 1973 of the series Lecture Notes in Computer Science pp 420-434


On the Surprising Behavior of Distance Metrics in High Dimensional Space

  • Charu C. AggarwalAffiliated withIBM T. J. Watson Research Center
  • , Alexander HinneburgAffiliated withInstitute of Computer Science, University of Halle
  • , Daniel A. KeimAffiliated withInstitute of Computer Science, University of Halle


In recent years, the effect of the curse of high dimensionality has been studied in great detail on several problems such as clustering, nearest neighbor search, and indexing. In high dimensional space the data becomes sparse, and traditional indexing and algorithmic techniques fail from a effciency and/or effectiveness perspective. Recent research results show that in high dimensional space, the concept of proximity, distance or nearest neighbor may not even be qualitatively meaningful. In this paper, we view the dimensionality curse from the point of view of the distance metrics which are used to measure the similarity between objects. We specifically examine the behavior of the commonly used L k norm and show that the problem of meaningfulness in high dimensionality is sensitive to the value of k. For example, this means that the Manhattan distance metric L(1 norm) is consistently more preferable than the Euclidean distance metric L(2 norm) for high dimensional data mining applications. Using the intuition derived from our analysis, we introduce and examine a natural extension of the L k norm to fractional distance metrics. We show that the fractional distance metric provides more meaningful results both from the theoretical and empirical perspective. The results show that fractional distance metrics can significantly improve the effectiveness of standard clustering algorithms such as the k-means algorithm.