Lasso Regression: Harnessing Machine Learning for Effective Predictions

Table of Contents


Lasso Regression, as its name suggests, is like a cowboy of machine learning, lassoing in data to make powerful predictions! In our previous articles, we’ve journeyed through the realms of Linear Regression, Polynomial Regression, and Ridge Regression. Now, it’s time to meet a new member of the regression family – the Lasso Regression.

Imagine you’re at a county fair, participating in a game of lasso. The aim? To rope in as many targets as possible. However, some targets are worth more points than others, and you only have a limited amount of rope. So, you need to decide which targets to rope in, and which ones to leave out. You’ll likely choose the ones that give you the most points, right? Lasso Regression does something similar. It selects the most valuable features (or targets) to make predictions while leaving out the less important ones.

By the end of this article, you’ll be familiar with Lasso Regression, it’s working mechanism, and how it brings value to your data science and machine learning projects. Let’s giddy up and start our adventure in the wild, wild west of machine learning!


Before we head to the Lasso rodeo, let’s pause and recap some important concepts from our previous adventures. Remember Linear Regression? It was our basic predictive model, where we tried to fit a straight line that best predicted the target based on various features. But, as we learned, this straight line can sometimes overfit the training data, causing poor performance on new, unseen data.

That’s where Ridge Regression stepped in, like a seasoned dart player adjusting his aim to hit the bullseye, despite the wind. It introduced a penalty term that prevented overfitting and provided a better model. So, where does Lasso Regression fit in this picture?

Like Ridge Regression, Lasso Regression also includes a penalty term. But here’s the twist. Lasso Regression not only prevents overfitting but also helps in feature selection. Remember our lasso game at the fair? Just like you select targets to rope based on their point value, Lasso Regression selects features based on their importance in predicting the target.

So, when do you use Lasso Regression? Imagine you’re a detective with dozens of clues, but not all of them are useful to solve the case. You need to find the most relevant clues quickly, without getting sidetracked by the less important ones. Lasso Regression is your loyal partner in this case, selecting the most relevant features and discarding the irrelevant ones, helping you reach the solution more effectively and efficiently.

Next, we will dive deeper into how Lasso Regression does this magic, selecting the most valuable features while keeping our model simple and interpretable. So, buckle up as we continue our exciting journey into the world of machine learning!


Imagine you’re hosting a party and you want to make a delicious punch for your guests. You have many different ingredients you could use: fruit juice, soda, ice cream, fresh fruits, and more. But you can’t use all the ingredients – your punch bowl isn’t big enough, and besides, not all the flavors will go well together. You want to select just the right combination of ingredients that will result in the tastiest punch.

Lasso Regression operates in a similar fashion. Instead of throwing in all possible predictors into your model (or all ingredients into your punch bowl), Lasso Regression helps to select the most important predictors, ensuring a flavorful and balanced prediction (or punch)!

Like Ridge Regression, Lasso also introduces a penalty to its loss function. But while Ridge Regression can shrink the coefficients of less important predictors, it can’t entirely eliminate them. Lasso Regression, on the other hand, has the capability to shrink some coefficients to zero, effectively excluding them from the model. This feature is what makes Lasso a useful tool for feature selection in machine learning.

Lasso stands for Least Absolute Shrinkage and Selection Operator. The ‘shrinkage’ part refers to the reduction of the coefficients and the ‘selection operator’ part refers to Lasso’s ability to select predictors. But what does ‘least absolute’ mean? Well, it has to do with the kind of penalty Lasso uses, which brings us to the next section!


Have you ever been to a buffet, where you can eat as much as you want, but there’s a catch – you can’t waste food? If you take too much food on your plate and can’t finish it, you might be charged a penalty. So you have to carefully select what you put on your plate.

The Lasso Penalty works in a similar way. The Lasso model is like the diner at a buffet. The features (or predictors) are the food items. The model can ‘eat’ as many features as it wants, but if it ‘wastes’ any (by giving them too much importance when they don’t deserve it), it’s penalized.

This penalty in Lasso Regression is calculated as the absolute value of the coefficients, unlike Ridge Regression where it’s the squared value. Hence, the term ‘Least Absolute Shrinkage.’ This absolute value penalty can force some of the coefficient estimates to be exactly equal to zero when the tuning parameter λ is sufficiently large. In other words, some types of food (predictors) get completely left out of the plate (model) if they’re not contributing enough to the taste (prediction).

This might seem like a simple change from Ridge, but it makes a world of difference! Remember our punch bowl analogy? The Lasso penalty is like a magic sieve that only allows the most important ingredients to make it into the punch, ensuring a concoction that’s delightful and just right.

In the end, the Lasso Regression makes sure we have the tastiest punch (or the best, most streamlined prediction model) for our party (or data problem). And just like at the buffet, Lasso encourages us to be mindful of what we include in our model, making sure we select features that truly enrich the flavor of our predictions.


  1. Lasso Regression: Imagine you’re a detective, and you have lots of clues to solve a mystery. Some clues are helpful, some are not so useful, and some are downright misleading! Just like in our detective story, when you have lots of data to predict something, some of that data may not help us make good predictions. Lasso Regression is like a super-smart detective who knows which clues (or pieces of data) to pay attention to and which ones to ignore. It does this by using a special tool called a “penalty.”
  2. Penalty Term (λ): Our detective’s special tool, the penalty term, is like a magnifying glass. It helps the detective (Lasso Regression) to see which clues (data) are important and which ones are not. The penalty term can adjust its focus – if it’s too loose, it might consider too many irrelevant clues, and if it’s too tight, it might miss out on important ones. This fine-tuning of the focus is controlled by a special knob, called lambda (λ).
  3. Coefficients: Coefficients are like the importance levels assigned to each clue in our detective story. Each clue (or piece of data) is given a rating or coefficient based on how useful it is to solve the mystery (make the prediction). But remember, our super-smart detective (Lasso Regression) uses the magnifying glass (penalty term) to ensure that no clue is given too much or too little importance.
  4. Overfitting: Overfitting is like a detective who gets stuck on a few specific clues and fails to consider other important information. This detective might solve one mystery well, but when faced with a new case, they struggle because they’re not used to considering all clues. Lasso Regression helps us avoid this by adjusting the focus of our magnifying glass (penalty term) to ensure we consider a balanced set of clues (data).
  5. Feature Selection: This is one of Lasso Regression’s superpowers. It’s like a detective who can figure out which clues are most likely to solve the case. Lasso does this by pushing the importance level (coefficient) of less important features (clues) toward zero. By doing this, Lasso effectively eliminates those features from the model, making the model simpler and easier to understand.


To see Lasso Regression in action, let’s imagine we’re trying to predict the winner of a baking contest. We have lots of data – the baker’s years of experience, number of past wins, type of oven used, and even the weather on the day of the contest!

  1. Identifying the Problem: We want to predict who will win the baking contest. In Lasso Regression terms, the winner is our ‘target’ (like the solved mystery in our detective story).
  2. Collecting the Data: We collect data, such as years of experience, number of past wins, type of oven used, and the weather on the day of the contest. These are our clues for predicting the winner.
  3. Building the Model: Next, we feed this data into our Lasso Regression model (our super-smart detective). Our model will look at the data and assign each piece a ‘coefficient’ (importance level) based on how helpful it is in predicting the winner.
  4. Adding the Penalty: But remember, we don’t want any piece of data to become too important (like a clue being overvalued in a case). So, we use our penalty term (the magnifying glass) to make sure our model is balanced and doesn’t over-focus on any one piece of data.
  5. Making Predictions: With everything set up, our model can now predict the winner of the baking contest!
  6. Evaluating the Model: We check if the model’s predictions match the actual winners of past contests. If it does a good job, we can trust it to predict future contests! If not, we adjust our penalty term (fine-tune our magnifying glass) and try again.

The world of Lasso Regression may seem a bit intimidating at first, just like a detective’s first mystery. But don’t worry, the more we practice, the better we’ll get at cracking the code of data and predictions.

VII. Introduction to Dataset

For our practical implementation, we’re going to use a well-known dataset in the machine learning world, the Wine Quality dataset. This dataset, available in the UCI Machine Learning Repository, is a fantastic resource to understand and demonstrate Lasso Regression.

The Wine Quality dataset contains various physicochemical properties of red and white variants of the Portuguese “Vinho Verde” wine, along with a quality rating given by human experts. The properties include:

  1. Fixed acidity: Most of the acids involved with wine are fixed or nonvolatile, meaning they do not evaporate readily.
  2. Volatile acidity: The amount of acetic acid in the wine, which at too high of levels can lead to an unpleasant vinegar taste.
  3. Citric acid: Found in small quantities, citric acid can add freshness and flavor to wines.
  4. Residual sugar: This refers to the amount of sugar remaining after fermentation stops. It’s rare to find wines with less than 1 gram/liter and wines with greater than 45 grams/liter are considered sweet.
  5. Chlorides: The amount of salt in the wine.
  6. Free sulfur dioxide: The free form of sulfur dioxide exists in equilibrium between molecular SO2 (as a dissolved gas) and bisulfite ion; it prevents microbial growth and the oxidation of wine.
  7. Total sulfur dioxide: It’s the portion of sulfur dioxide that is free in the wine plus the portion that is bound to other chemicals in the wine such as aldehydes, pigments, or sugars.
  8. Density: The density of water is close to that of water, depending on the percent alcohol and sugar content.
  9. pH: Describes how acidic or basic a wine is on a scale from 0 (very acidic) to 14 (very basic); most wines are between 3-4 on the pH scale.
  10. Sulphates: Wine can contain sulphates for preserving wine but at high concentrations, it can become an allergen.
  11. Alcohol: The percent alcohol content of the wine.

Finally, the target variable is:

  1. Quality: A score between 0 and 10 given by human experts based on the taste of the wine.

Each of these variables can affect the quality of the wine, and that’s what we’re trying to predict!

VIII. Applying Lasso Regression

Let’s start by importing our necessary libraries and loading the dataset.

#Import Required Packages
import pandas as pd
import numpy as np
from sklearn.model_selection import train_test_split
from sklearn.preprocessing import StandardScaler
from sklearn.linear_model import Lasso
from sklearn.metrics import mean_squared_error
import matplotlib.pyplot as plt

# Load the Wine Quality dataset
data = pd.read_csv('', sep=';')

#Splitting the Data into features (X) and targets(y)
X = data.drop('quality', axis=1)
y = data['quality']

#Scaling the Data
scaler = StandardScaler()
X_scaled = scaler.fit_transform(X)

#Splitting out Data into Test and Train
X_train, X_test, y_train, y_test = train_test_split(X_scaled, y, test_size=0.2, random_state=42)

#Training our Lasso Model
lasso = Lasso(alpha=0.1), y_train)

# Predict the values
y_pred = lasso.predict(X_test)

# Number of values to visualize
num_values = 25

# Create an array with the number of values
index = np.arange(num_values)

# Bar width
bar_width = 0.35

# Plot the actual values, y_test[:num_values], bar_width, color='b', label='Actual')

# Plot the predicted values + bar_width, y_pred[:num_values], bar_width, color='r', label='Predicted')

# Setup the graph
plt.ylabel('Wine Quality')
plt.title('Comparing Actual vs Predicted Values (Top 25 Instances)')
plt.xticks(index + bar_width / 2, np.array([i for i in range(num_values)]))

# Show the graph

#Model Evaluation
mse = mean_squared_error(y_test, y_pred)
print(f"Mean Squared Error: {mse}")

Now that we have our model and predictions, we can look at the coefficients that Lasso calculated for each feature. This can help us understand which features are most important in predicting wine quality.
print(pd.DataFrame(lasso.coef_, X.columns, columns=['Coefficients']))



Let’s start by putting our scientist hat on and take a closer look at our result: the mean squared error (MSE) is 0.438864362387304. What does this mean, you may ask? Remember when we used to play games, and the one who made the fewest mistakes won? Well, think of MSE as a game you play with your computer, where your computer tries to guess the progression of diabetes in a patient. Every time the computer’s guess (prediction) is off from the actual value, it’s considered a mistake. The MSE is an average of all those mistakes squared.

So, our MSE tells us that on average, the model’s predictions are off (either too high or too low) by about 0.44 (since the square root of 0.44 is approximately 0.66) units from the actual progression of diabetes. It’s like your friend guessing your age and they’re usually off by about 0.66 years. Not bad, right?

What’s interesting about Lasso Regression is not just how well it predicts but also which features (remember, the ‘crew members’ of our ship) it deems important. Lasso has this unique ability to push the coefficients of less important features to zero, effectively excluding them from the model. It’s like the captain saying, “I appreciate your help, but we can manage the ship better without you.”

By looking at which coefficients were reduced to zero, we can see which features of Lasso Regression were deemed unimportant for predicting the progression of diabetes. And this is powerful, my friend! By reducing noise and focusing only on the important features, we get a model that’s easier to understand and explain.


To truly appreciate the power of Lasso, let’s compare it with our good old friends, Linear and Ridge Regression. It’s like comparing different flavors of ice cream to decide which one you like best. Just as each flavor has its unique taste, each type of regression has its unique strengths and weaknesses.

Linear Regression is your plain vanilla. It’s simple and does a pretty good job most of the time. But when you have a lot of features (remember the overworked crew members?), it can get a bit overwhelmed and put too much importance on some of them, leading to overfitting.

Ridge Regression, on the other hand, is like chocolate with a twist. It adds a penalty term to avoid overfitting. It ensures no feature is given too much importance, much like spreading the work evenly among the crew members.

And then we have Lasso Regression, which is like an exotic mango flavor. Not only does it add a penalty term like Ridge, but it can also push the coefficients of unimportant features to zero, effectively excluding them from the model. It’s like having a smart captain who knows exactly which crew members to keep and which to let go for a smooth sail.

So, comparing the MSE of the Lasso, Linear, and Ridge Regression models on the same dataset can help us decide which model makes fewer mistakes in prediction, hence is the better model for our problem. But remember, just like in ice cream, there’s no absolute ‘best’ flavor. Similarly, there’s no ‘best’ model that fits all problems. The choice depends on your specific problem, your data, and what you value most – simplicity, accuracy, or interpretability. Happy sailing!


Discussing the Pros and Cons of Using Lasso Regression

Let’s return to our ship analogy. Think of Lasso Regression as a seasoned captain of a large ship. They have many crew members (or features) under their command. But as the captain, they have the unique ability to understand who’s crucial for the journey and who’s not. Much like this, Lasso Regression has its advantages and limitations.


Feature Selection: One of Lasso’s greatest strengths is its ability to perform feature selection. It’s like a captain who knows exactly which crew members to keep and which to let go for a smooth sail. This makes Lasso Regression particularly useful when dealing with datasets with many features, as it automatically selects more influential features.

Preventing Overfitting: Lasso is also effective at reducing the overfitting problem. It introduces a penalty term that makes the coefficients of less important features shrink toward zero. This is similar to a captain who ensures no single crew member (or feature) is given too much importance.

Interpretability: Lasso tends to create simpler and more interpretable models that involve only a subset of the features. It’s like a captain keeping a lean but efficient crew, making it easier to understand and manage.


Selection of Regularization Parameter: Much like a captain who needs to chart the best course, the performance of Lasso is sensitive to the regularization parameter lambda. If not selected carefully, it may lead to underfitting or overfitting.

Risk of Discarding Important Features: Lasso can shrink some coefficients to zero, effectively excluding them from the model, which can be a problem if there is collinearity between the features (meaning that they are correlated). In these cases, Lasso might retain one and discard the other, potentially leading to loss of information.

Not Ideal for Non-linear Relationships: Lasso, like other linear models, may not perform well if there are complex, non-linear relationships between features and the target variable.

Situations Where Lasso Performs Well and Where It May Not

Lasso shines in situations with high-dimensional datasets where feature selection is necessary. It works best when there are many features that could be irrelevant or redundant, and you want a sparse solution (fewer features in the model).

However, Lasso may not be the best choice for datasets where features are highly correlated, as it will select one and discard the rest. Additionally, in cases where the relationship between the features and target variable is highly non-linear, Lasso may not provide the best predictive accuracy.


Summarizing the Key Points of the Article

In the world of regression models, Lasso Regression is like an experienced and discerning captain. Its unique ability to perform feature selection sets it apart from other regression models, making it particularly useful when dealing with high-dimensional datasets. It is efficient at controlling the complexity of the model, which in turn helps to prevent overfitting.

However, just like any ship captain, Lasso Regression has its limitations. It requires careful tuning of its regularization parameter, and it may discard important features if they are highly correlated with others. Furthermore, Lasso may not be ideal when there are complex, non-linear relationships in your data.

Navigating the seas of machine learning involves choosing the right model for your journey, and understanding the strengths and limitations of each is crucial. With Lasso Regression, while you may have to handle the challenges of parameter tuning and dealing with correlated features, you gain a powerful tool for feature selection and creating simpler, more interpretable models. Happy sailing!

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