Cluster analysis and factor analysis are two different statistical methods in data analytics which are used heavily in analytical methods of subjects like natural sciences and behavioural sciences. The names of these analytical methods are so because both these methods allow the users to divide the data into either clusters or into factors.
Most newly established data analysts have this common confusion that both these methods are almost similar. But while these two methods may look similar on the surface but they differ in several ways including their applications and objectives.
One key difference between cluster analysis and factor analysis is the fact that they have distinguished objectives. For factor analysis the usual objective is to explain the correlation with a data set and understand how the variables relate to each other. But on the other hand the objective of cluster analysis is to address the heterogeneity in the individual data sets.
Put in simpler words the spirit of cluster analysis is to help in categorization but that of factor analysis are a form of simplification.
This is not an easy section for drawing a line of separation in between cluster and factor analysis. That is because the results or solutions obtainable from both these analysis is subjective to their application. But still one could say that with factor analysis provides in a way the ‘best’ solutions to the researcher. This best solution is in the sense that the researcher can optimize a certain aspect of the solution this is known as orthogonality which offers ease of interpretation for the analysts.
But in case of cluster analysis this is not the case. The reasons behind that being all algorithms which can yield the best solutions for cluster analysis are usually computationally incompetent. Thus, researchers cannot trust this method of cluster analysis as it does not guarantee an optimal solution.
Cluster analysis and factor analysis differ in how they are applied to data, especially when it comes to applying them to real data. This is because factor analysis can reduce the unwieldy variables sets and boil them down to a smaller set of factors. This makes it suitable for simplifying otherwise complex models of analysis. Moreover, factor analysis also comes with a sort of confirmatory use researchers can use this method to develop a set of hypotheses based on how the variables in the data set are related. After that the researcher can run a factor analysis to further confirm these hypotheses.
But cluster analysis on the other hand is suitable only for categorizing objects as per certain predetermined criteria. In cluster analysis a researcher can measure selected aspects of say a group of newly discovered plants and then place these plants into categories of species grouped by employing cluster analysis.
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