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I am trying to understand an example from my textbook.

Let's say $Z = X + Y$, where $X$ and $Y$ are uniform random variables with range $[0,1]$. Then the PDF is $$f(z) = \begin{cases} z & \text{for $0 < z < 1$} \\ 2-z & \text{for $1 \le z < 2$} \\ 0 & \text{otherwise.} \end{cases}$$

How was this PDF obtained?


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There are a couple of ways. Have you done convolutions? Not the best way in my opinion, but certainly useful elsewhere. And there is a straightforward geometric approach. – André Nicolas Apr 11 '13 at 0:49
what would be the bounds if i were to use convolutions? also, I don't quite understand the geometric approach. Can you direct me to an example? – Zhulu Apr 11 '13 at 1:19
For convolution, you want $\int_{-\infty}^\infty f_Y(z-x)f_X(x)\,dx$. So since density is $0$ outside $(0,1)$, we need $0\le z-x\le 1$, or equivalently $x\le z\le x+1$. For $z\le 1$, the first bound is the one to use. For $1\lt z\le 2$, it is the second. – André Nicolas Apr 11 '13 at 1:33
I sort of gave the bounds. For $0\le z\le 1$, integrate from $x=0$ to $x=z$. For $1\lz\le 2$, integrate from $z-1$$ to $1$. Will maybe write up answer. – André Nicolas Apr 11 '13 at 2:19
The basic method is to my mind not convolution, but finding the cdf and differentiating. So draw the square on which the joint density lives. The probability that $Z\le z$ is the probability $(X,Y)$ lands in the part of the square "below" the line $x+y=z$. Imagine drawing lines $x+y=z$ for various $z$. The geometry of the "part below" changes at $z=1$. For $z\lt 1$ the part below is a triangle. For $1\lt z\lt 2$ it is the part above that is a triangle. – André Nicolas Dec 15 '14 at 5:36
up vote 11 down vote accepted

If we want to use a convolution, let $f_X$ be the full density function of$X$, and let $f_Y$ be the full density function of $Y$. Let $Z=X+Y$. Then $$f_Z(z)=\int_{-\infty}^\infty f_X(x)f_Y(z-x)\,dx.$$

Now let us apply this general formula to our particular case. We will have $f_Z(z)=0$ for $z\lt 0$, and also for $z\ge 2$. Now we deal with the interval from $0$ to $2$. It is useful to break this down into two cases (i) $0\lt z\le 1$ and (ii) $1\lt z\lt 2$.

(i) The product $f_X(x)f_Y(z-x)$ is $1$ in some places, and $0$ elsewhere. We want to make sure we avoid calling it $1$ when it is $0$. In order to have $f_Y(z-x)=1$, we need $z-x\ge 0$, that is, $x\le z$. So for (i), we will be integrating from $x=0$ to $x=z$. And easily $$\int_0^z 1\,dx=z.$$ Thus $f_Z(z)=z$ for $0\lt z\le 1$.

(ii) Suppose that $1\lt z\lt 2$. In order to have $f_Y(z-x)$ to be $1$, we need $z-x\le 1$, that is, we need $x\ge z-1$. So for (ii) we integrate from $z-1$ to $1$. And easily $$\int_{z-1}^1 1\,dx=2-z.$$ Thus $f_Z(z)=2-z$ for $1\lt z\lt 2$.

Another way: (Sketch) We can go after the cdf $F_Z(z)$ of $Z$, and then differentiate. So we need to find $\Pr(Z\le z)$.

For a few fixed $z$ values, draw the lines with equation $x+y=z$ on an x-y axis plot. Draw the square $S$ with corners $(0,0)$, $(1,0)$, $(1,1)$, and $(0,1)$.

Then $\Pr(Z\le z)$ is the area of the part $S$ that is "below" the line $x+y=z$. That area can be calculated using basic geometry. For example, when z is 2, the whole square area is under the line so Pr=1. There is a switch in basic shape at $z=1$.

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Thank very much for writing this up! This really helped me fully understand the concept of convolution. – Zhulu Apr 11 '13 at 3:45

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