Comparison of Decision Boundaries of Classification Learners

Visualize the decision boundaries of multiple classification learners on some artificial data sets.


Michel Lang


August 14, 2020

The visualization of decision boundaries helps to understand what the pros and cons of individual classification learners are. This posts demonstrates how to create such plots.

We load the mlr3 package.


We initialize the random number generator with a fixed seed for reproducibility, and decrease the verbosity of the logger to keep the output clearly represented.


Artificial Data Sets

The three artificial data sets are generated by task generators (implemented in mlr3):

N <- 200
tasks <- list(


Points are distributed on a 2-dimensional cube with corners \((\pm 1, \pm 1)\). Class is "red" if \(x\) and \(y\) have the same sign, and "black" otherwise.



Two circles with same center but different radii. Points in the smaller circle are "black", points only in the larger circle are "red".



Two interleaving half circles (“moons”).



We consider the following learners:


learners <- list(
  # k-nearest neighbours classifier
  lrn("classif.kknn", id = "kkn", predict_type = "prob", k = 3),

  # linear svm
  lrn("classif.svm", id = "lin. svm", predict_type = "prob", kernel = "linear"),

  # radial-basis function svm
    id = "rbf svm", predict_type = "prob", kernel = "radial",
    gamma = 2, cost = 1, type = "C-classification"

  # naive bayes
  lrn("classif.naive_bayes", id = "naive bayes", predict_type = "prob"),

  # single decision tree
  lrn("classif.rpart", id = "tree", predict_type = "prob", cp = 0, maxdepth = 5),

  # random forest
  lrn("classif.ranger", id = "random forest", predict_type = "prob")

The hyperparameters are chosen in a way that the decision boundaries look “typical” for the respective classifier. Of course, with different hyperparameters, results may look very different.

Fitting the Models

To apply each learner on each task, we first build an exhaustive grid design of experiments with benchmark_grid() and then pass it to benchmark() to do the actual work. A simple holdout resampling is used here:

design <- benchmark_grid(
  tasks = tasks,
  learners = learners,
  resamplings = rsmp("holdout")

bmr <- benchmark(design, store_models = TRUE)

A quick look into the performance values:

perf <- bmr$aggregate(msr("classif.acc"))[, c("task_id", "learner_id", "classif.acc")]
       task_id    learner_id classif.acc
 1:    xor_200           kkn   0.9402985
 2:    xor_200      lin. svm   0.5223881
 3:    xor_200       rbf svm   0.9701493
 4:    xor_200   naive bayes   0.4328358
 5:    xor_200          tree   0.9402985
 6:    xor_200 random forest   1.0000000
 7:  moons_200           kkn   1.0000000
 8:  moons_200      lin. svm   0.8805970
 9:  moons_200       rbf svm   1.0000000
10:  moons_200   naive bayes   0.8955224
11:  moons_200          tree   0.8955224
12:  moons_200 random forest   0.9552239
13: circle_200           kkn   0.8805970
14: circle_200      lin. svm   0.4925373
15: circle_200       rbf svm   0.8955224
16: circle_200   naive bayes   0.7014925
17: circle_200          tree   0.7462687
18: circle_200 random forest   0.7761194


To generate the plots, we iterate over the individual ResampleResult objects stored in the BenchmarkResult, and in each iteration we store the plot of the learner prediction generated by the mlr3viz package.


n <- bmr$n_resample_results
plots <- vector("list", n)
for (i in seq_len(n)) {
  rr <- bmr$resample_result(i)
  plots[[i]] <- autoplot(rr, type = "prediction")

We now have a list of plots. Each one can be printed individually:


Note that only observations from the test data is plotted as points.

To get a nice annotated overview, we arranged all plots together in a single pdf file. The number in the upper right is the respective accuracy on the test set.

pdf(file = "plot_learner_prediction.pdf", width = 20, height = 6)
ntasks <- length(tasks)
nlearners <- length(learners)
m <- msr("classif.acc")

# for each plot
for (i in seq_along(plots)) {
  plots[[i]] <- plots[[i]] +
    # remove legend
    ggplot2::theme(legend.position = "none") +
    # remove labs
    ggplot2::xlab("") + ggplot2::ylab("") +
    # add accuracy score as annotation
      label = sprintf("%.2f", bmr$resample_result(i)$aggregate(m)),
      x = Inf, y = Inf, vjust = 2, hjust = 1.5

# for each plot of the first column
for (i in seq_len(ntasks)) {
  ii <- (i - 1) * nlearners + 1L
  plots[[ii]] <- plots[[ii]] + ggplot2::ylab(sub("_[0-9]+$", "", tasks[[i]]$id))

# for each plot of the first row
for (i in seq_len(nlearners)) {
  plots[[i]] <- plots[[i]] + ggplot2::ggtitle(learners[[i]]$id)

gridExtra::grid.arrange(grobs = plots, nrow = length(tasks))

As you can see, the decision boundaries look very different. Some are linear, others are parallel to the axis, and yet others are highly non-linear. The boundaries are partly very smooth with a slow transition of probabilities, others are very abrupt. All these properties are important during model selection, and should be considered for your problem at hand.