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Is there a formula for this gaussian integral

  1. Apr 28, 2014 #1
    Is there a formula for this gaussian integral:


    I've tried wikipedia and they only have formulas for the integrand with only x*e^... not x^4e^...
    Wolframalpha won't do it either, because I actually have an integral that looks just like that, unknown constants and all.
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 28, 2014 #2


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    Well, we know that:

    $$\int_{-\infty}^\infty e^{-bx^2}dx=\sqrt{\frac{\pi}{b}}$$

    Taking some derivatives:

    $$\frac{d^2}{db^2}\int_{-\infty}^\infty e^{-bx^2}dx=\int_{-\infty}^{\infty}x^4e^{-bx^2}dx=\frac{3}{4}\frac{\sqrt{\pi}}{b^{5/2}}$$

    I'm not sure if you can use this for your integral, but it looks possible.
  4. Apr 28, 2014 #3
    Sorry, but you can't :/
  5. Apr 28, 2014 #4


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    Matterwave's answer is correct!
  6. Apr 28, 2014 #5


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    You are basically just asking for the moments of the normal distribution. These are well known:
    [tex]\int_{-\infty}^{\infty} \frac{x^p}{\sigma \sqrt{2\pi}} e^{-(x-\mu)^2 / (2 \sigma^2)} dx= \sigma^p (p-1)! [/tex]
    when p is even, and zero when p is odd.

    So ##p=4##, ##\sigma = \frac{1}{\sqrt{2a}}## and ##\mu = b##, which gives ##\frac{3\sqrt{\pi}}{4 a^{5/2}}## as Matterwave gave.
  7. Apr 28, 2014 #6
    I'm sorry i just dont think that's correct. Try wolframalpha. I know the formulas for the x, x^2, x^3 cases, but not the x^4. But everything up to x^3 agrees with wolframalpha's output, and this formula you guys are giving doesnt look very similar and does not agree.
    There's a pattern here but I can't figure it out.
  8. Apr 28, 2014 #7


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    I'm an idiot, I looked up the central moments (and even that's wrong because it should be ##(p-1)!!##). The non-central moments are

    for p = 1, 2, 3, and 4. Those should agree with what you have.
  9. Apr 28, 2014 #8
    Ahhh thank you thank you thank you! That works 100%! Man I've been trying to get this formula for a week...I really appreciate it.
  10. Apr 28, 2014 #9
    The "freshman calculus" way to do this is to integrate by parts:
    [tex]u = x^3 \qquad dv = xe^{-x^2}\,dx[/tex]so that
    [tex]du = 3x^2 \qquad v = -{1 \over 2}e^{-x^2}[/tex]and now the degree of the polynomial has been reduced by 2.

    Now, that is for the case where a and b are 0, but the other cases are really the same. You just have to change variables; then you will have a more complicated polynomial in place of [itex]x^4[/itex], but once you know how to do [itex]\int x^{2k}e^{-x^2}[/itex] you can integrate any polynomial times [itex]e^{-x^2}[/itex].
  11. Apr 28, 2014 #10


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    Another clever way to do this integral is to look at the characteristic function for a Gaussian distribution:

    $$C(t)\equiv\left<e^{itx}\right>=\frac{1}{\sigma\sqrt{2\pi}} \int_{-\infty}^{\infty}e^{itx}e^{-(x-\mu)^2/2\sigma^2}$$

    You can do this integral by completing the square in the exponential, or by just looking it up. You will find:


    You can expand this function in powers of t, and match it to the expansion of:

    $$\left<e^{itx}\right>\approx 1+\left<itx\right>+\frac{\left<(itx)^2\right>}{2}+...$$

    If you match the powers of t on both sides, you can get all the general moments of the Gaussian distribution. You can get all the odd ones too, for which the formula I gave earlier would no longer work. This Characteristic function is closely related to the moment generating function, but I'm more familiar with working with these.
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