Nonparametric regression relaxes the usual assumption of linearity and enables you to explore the data more flexibly, uncovering structure in the data that might otherwise be missed.
However, many forms of nonparametric regression do not perform well when the number of independent variables in the model is large. The sparseness of data in this setting causes the variances of the estimates to be unacceptably large unless the sample size is extremely large. The problem of rapidly increasing variance for increasing dimensionality is sometimes referred to as the “curse of dimensionality.” Interpretability is another problem with nonparametric regression based on kernel and smoothing spline estimates. These estimates contain information about the relationship between the dependent and independent variables, and the information is often difficult to comprehend.
To overcome these difficulties, additive models were proposed by some researchers, for example, Stone (1985). These models estimate an additive approximation to the multivariate regression function. The benefits of an additive approximation are at least twofold. First, since each of the individual additive terms is estimated by using a univariate smoother, the curse of dimensionality is avoided, at the cost of not being able to approximate universally. Second, estimates of the individual terms explain how the dependent variable changes with the corresponding independent variables.
To extend the additive model to a wide range of distribution families, Hastie and Tibshirani (1990) proposed generalized additive models. These models enable the mean of the dependent variable to depend on an additive predictor through a nonlinear link function. The models permit the response probability distribution to be any member of the exponential family of distributions. Many widely used statistical models belong to this general class; they include additive models for Gaussian data, nonparametric logistic models for binary data, and nonparametric log-linear models for Poisson data.