Akaike Information Criterion – How to Use It With Examples

19.04.23 Statistical models Time to read: 7min

How do you like this article?

0 Reviews


The Akaike information criterion (AIC) is an ingenious tool used in statistical modeling.1 By having several models and comparing them to AIC scores, you can select the best one for your data.

This article discusses the background of the Akaike information criterion, when to use it, how to calculate AIC scores, and how to interpret results.

Akaike Information Criterion – In a Nutshell

AIC is a useful mathematical method founded on information theory that helps estimate prediction error. In statistics, the tool compares different models to determine the highest quality for a given data set.

You can calculate the Akaike information criterion from the following:

  • The total independent variables present in the model2
  • The maximum possible estimate produced by the model (how best your model reproduces the data)

Definition: Akaike information criterion

Akaike information criterion is a model-selecting, mathematical criterion that estimates the measures of different models as they relate to a certain data set. The representation usually varies when researchers use a statistical model to represent data generation, meaning some information will be lost. Akaike information criterion estimates and compares the amount of information loss that occurs in all models.

According to Hirotsugu Akaike, the formulator of the Akaike information criterion, the best fitting model for your data set should explain the greatest variation using fewer independent variables. Afterward, you fit several regression models with this formula and compare each AIC score.3


It’s important to understand that Akaike information criterion scores are not significant alone. You must compare them with another model for accuracy.

How to avoid point deductions

Point deductions can also be caused when citing passages that are not written in your own words. Don’t take a risk and run your paper through our online plagiarism checker. You will receive the results in only 10 minutes and submit your paper with confidence.

To the plagiarism checker

When to use the Akaike information criterion

Keep in mind the following two aspects when using the Akaike information criterion:

Model selection

When choosing the best model, you must have several options, compare them against Akaike information criterion scores, and select the one with the lowest. Hence, if you compare two models explaining the same variation, the one with fewer parameters will give a lower AIC score.

Create different model sets containing combinations of the measured independent variables. For these combinations to work in the Akaike information criterion, you should do the following:

  • Understand the study system and use logically connected parameters
  • Use experimental design — for instance, if you have two experiments split among test subjects, one test is sufficient to ascertain the interaction between the treatments4


In a study of how “hours spent working” and “the work environment” affect work productivity levels, you select two models:

  • Productivity levels in hours spent working
  • Productivity levels in hours spent working and the work environment

Your Akaike information criterion results are as follows:

  • Model 1: r2 of 0.53 and p-value of less than 0.05
  • Model 2: r2 of 0.43 and p-value of less than 0.05

Running your models using the Akaike information criterion test shows that model 2 has the lowest AIC score. From these results, you can select model 2 as the best model for your research.

Now, calculate the Akaike information criterion scores of the two models and compare them. The ideal model should be more than two AIC units lesser than the other model.

Most statistical software like R has functions that can quickly calculate Akaike information criterion scores.


From the formula, AIC= 2K – 2 In(L), K always has a standard of 2.

  • If your model has one independent variable, your K adds up to 3.
  • If your model uses two independent variables, your K turns to 4, and so on.

Remember that the Akaike information criterion is relevant when the sample size exceeds the set number of parameters. However, you may have a case study with a sample size relative to the parameters or even lesser. Consider other model selection methods, like the Bayesian Information Criterion (BIC).5

AIC scores

These scores measure the relative quality of models that are compared against each other using the Akaike information criterion test.

The main purpose of the AIC score is to help you determine the best machine learning (ML) model for a particular data set, which is essential when you can’t test the data set easily.


Suppose you want to predict a person’s weight using age and height. You create two models and use the Akaike information criterion as follows:

  • Model 1: Has age and height as predictors
  • Model 2: Has only height as a predictor

Feeding the two models to a dataset of 1,000 observations, you find these AIC scores:

  • Model 1: AIC = 700
  • Model 2: AIC = 400

Select model 2 as the better-fitting model for the data variation from the above scores.

How to calculate Akaike information criterion

Calculating the Akaike information criterion value involves understanding several aspects, as outlined below:

Use the following formulae to calculate the Akaike information criterion:

AIC = 2K – 2 In(L)


  • K: number of independent variables
  • In(L): Log-likelihood of your model (this value tells you how likely the model fits the data)

Akaike information criterion will overfit the collected data when the sample size is small. It will select a complex model that would not generalize to new data. To address this issue, you can use the Akaike information criterion with a correction for small sample sizes (AICc).

Suppose you’re conducting a study to identify the variations in Body Mass Index (BMI) using sugar-sweetened beverage data. You create different models to determine how age, beverage consumption, and sex leads to these variations. So, you create several models, compare them, and fit in the three predictor variables (age, beverage consumption, and sex).

To begin, you create models to test how the variables work on their own, as follows:

Model 1: Has age as a predictor {(age.mod – lm(bmi ~ age, data = bmi.data)}

Model 2: Has sex as a predictor {(sex.mod – lm(bmi ~ sex, data = bmi.data)}

Model 3: Has beverage consumption as a predictor {consumption.mod – lm(BMI ~ consumption, data = bmi.data)}

Then, you create models to test how the variables work when combined:

Model 4: Has age and sex as predictors {age.sex.mod – lm(bmi ~ age + sex, data = bmi.data)}

Model 5: Has age, beverage consumption, and sex as predictors {combination. mod – lm(bmi ~ age + sex + consumption, data = bmi. data)}

Finally, you create a model that explains the interaction of sex, beverage consumption, and age with BMI:

Model 6: Has age, beverage consumption, and sex as predictors {interaction. mod – lm(bmi ~ age*sex*consumption, data = bmi. data)}

Interpreting Akaike information criterion results

After running these models on statistical software like R, you’ll get the following output used to interpret the results:

K AICc Delta_AICc AICcWt Cum.Wt LL
combination.mod 5 1743.02 0.00 0.96 0.96 -866.45
interaction.mod 9 1749.35 6.33 0.04 1.00 -865.49
age.sex.mod 4 1760.59 17.57 0.00 1.00 -876.26
age.mod 3 1764.91 21.89 0.00 1.00 -879.43
sex.mod 3 2815.68 1072.66 0.00 1.00 -1404.82
consumption.mod 3 2820.86 1077.84 0.00 1.00 -1407.41

According to the Akaike information criterion, the best model for the data is always listed first, and it contains the following information:

  • K: The number of parameters
  • AICc: The AIC information for a small size sample
  • Delta_AICc: The AIC score difference between the high-quality model and another one
  • AICcWt: The proportion of the predictive power of the complete data set
  • Wt: The sum of the AICc weights
  • LL: The log-likelihood of your model

From the above results, the best model is the combinations model, which has a lesser Akaike information criterion score.

Tip for submitting your thesis

Depending on the type of binding and customer frequency at a print shop, the printing process and delivery may take a longer period of time. Don’t lose valuable time and use the printing service with free express delivery at BachelorPrint! This enables you to finalize your thesis up to one day before hand in.

Find more details here


Unfortunately, AIC can only provide a relative test of the model quality. Therefore, the Akaike information criterion will not indicate it if you have statistically unsatisfactory models.

You can use this tool in various circumstances, like when:

  • You need more data to test the results’ accuracy
  • You have a problem statement and have collected the necessary variables; however, you must check if these variables are important indicators for your problem

One or more independent variables make up a model. During the Akaike information criterion, researchers use their predicted interactions to determine variation in their corresponding dependent variables.

1 Coursera. “What Is Statistical Modeling?” October 27, 2022. https://www.coursera.org/articles/statistical-modeling.

2 University of Southern California. “Research Guides: Organizing Your Social Sciences Research Paper: Independent and Dependent Variables.” 2010. https://libguides.usc.edu/writingguide/variables.

3 McCullagh, Peter. “What Is a Statistical Model?” University of Chicago. 2002. https://www.stat.uchicago.edu/~pmcc/pubs/AOS023.pdf.

4 Britannica. “Experimental Design.” March 17. 2023. https://www.britannica.com/science/statistics/Experimental-design.

5 ScienceDirect Topics. “Bayesian Information Criterion.” Bayesian Information Criterion – an overview.” Accessed April 14, 2023. https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/social-sciences/bayesian-information-criterion.