The Annals of Statistics

Boosting the margin: a new explanation for the effectiveness of voting methods

Peter Bartlett, Yoav Freund, Wee Sun Lee, and Robert E. Schapire

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One of the surprising recurring phenomena observed in experiments with boosting is that the test error of the generated classifier usually does not increase as its size becomes very large, and often is observed to decrease even after the training error reaches zero. In this paper, we show that this phenomenon is related to the distribution of margins of the training examples with respect to the generated voting classification rule, where the margin of an example is simply the difference between the number of correct votes and the maximum number of votes received by any incorrect label. We show that techniques used in the analysis of Vapnik’s support vector classifiers and of neural networks with small weights can be applied to voting methods to relate the margin distribution to the test error. We also show theoretically and experimentally that boosting is especially effective at increasing the margins of the training examples. Finally, we compare our explanation to those based on the bias-variance decomposition.

Article information

Ann. Statist., Volume 26, Number 5 (1998), 1651-1686.

First available in Project Euclid: 21 June 2002

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Mathematical Reviews number (MathSciNet)

Zentralblatt MATH identifier

Primary: 62H30: Classification and discrimination; cluster analysis [See also 68T10, 91C20]

Ensemble methods decision trees neural networks bagging boosting error-correcting output coding Markov chain Monte Carlo


Schapire, Robert E.; Freund, Yoav; Bartlett, Peter; Lee, Wee Sun. Boosting the margin: a new explanation for the effectiveness of voting methods. Ann. Statist. 26 (1998), no. 5, 1651--1686. doi:10.1214/aos/1024691352.

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