The Random Walk

Here is a short guide to the random walk found in probability. Note that this random walk will be a symmetrical random walk with equal probabilities of \dfrac{1}{2} for each of the two outcomes.


Let us first consider a unbiased/even coin. We have a probability of 0.5 for heads and 0.5 for tails.

Denote the outcome of tosses as \omega = \omega_{1} \omega_{2} \omega_{3}...\omega_{n} (\omega) is omega) for n coin tosses. \omega is an infinite sequence of outcomes \omega_{1}, \omega_{2} up to { \omega_{n}.

Define the random variable X_j for the j^{th} coin toss for j from 1 to n where:



Each coin toss is either +1 for a heads or a -1 for a tails with a probability of 0.5 each.

Note that this X_j random variable does not have to relate to coin tosses. Once can define X_j to be dependent on up/down movements, even/odd numbers, etc.

Mean and Variance of X_j

E[X_j] = 0 since E[X_j] = 1 * \dfrac{1}{2} - 1 * \dfrac{1}{2}= 0.

Var(X_j) = 1 since

Var(X_j) = E[X_j^2] - (E[X_j])^2 = E[X_j^2] - 0^{2} = 1^2 * \dfrac{1}{2} + (-1)^2 * \dfrac{1}{2} = 1.

The Symmetrical Random Walk

Now we have the random variable X_j for j from 1 to n. But, what if we want a running total of these +1 and -1 outcomes for 1 to n?

Let us define M_0 = 0 and this “running total” as M_k where:

M_k = \displaystyle\sum_{j=1}^{k} X_j for k = 1, 2, …
This stochastic (random) process M_k is a symmetric random walk.

Properties of the Symmetric Random Walk

1) Mean is zero:

E[M_k] = E [\displaystyle\sum_{j=1}^{k} X_j] = \displaystyle\sum_{j=1}^{k} E[X_j] = \displaystyle\sum_{j=1}^{k} (1 * 0.5 + (- 1) * 0.5) = 0.

2) Variance is just k for M_k.

Var(M_k) = Var( \displaystyle\sum_{j=1}^{k} X_j ) = \displaystyle\sum_{j=1}^{k} Var(X_j) = \displaystyle\sum_{j=1}^{k} 1 = k.

Note that the independence of coin tosses was assumed such that the covariance in the double sum is zero.

3) The symmetric random walk is a martingale. That is \displaystyle E[M_l | F_k ] = M_k. (The conditional expectation given the filtration at time k < l is just the symmetric random walk at time k.) We don’t expect the symmetric random walk to change from time k to l.

4) The quadratic variation of the symmetric random walk is just time k. This is because:

[M, M]_k = \sum_{j=1}^{k} (M_j - M_j-1)^2 = \sum_{j=1}^{k} (X_j)^2 = \sum_{j=1}^{k}(\pm 1)^2 = k (Add 1 k times).

5) The increments of the symmetric random walk are independent. For example,
(M_1 - 0 = M_1 - M_0) , M_2 - M_1 , M_3 - M_2, ... , and M_k - M_{k-1} are independent increments. This means that increments over non-overlapping intervals are independent since the intervals depend on different coin tosses.


The symmetric random walk is a “running total” on the random variable X_j. This random variable X_j is either +1 or -1 with equal probabilities from one of two outcomes (heads / tails for example). The symmetric random walk has a lot useful properties and is useful for understanding Brownian Motion.

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