DEV Community

Cover image for A Closer Look at AUROC and AUPRC under Class Imbalance
Mike Young
Mike Young

Posted on • Originally published at

A Closer Look at AUROC and AUPRC under Class Imbalance

This is a Plain English Papers summary of a research paper called A Closer Look at AUROC and AUPRC under Class Imbalance. If you like these kinds of analysis, you should subscribe to the newsletter or follow me on Twitter.


  • This paper examines the properties of two commonly used performance metrics in machine learning: the Area Under the Receiver Operating Characteristic (AUROC) curve and the Area Under the Precision-Recall Curve (AUPRC).
  • The authors investigate how these metrics behave under class imbalance, a common challenge in real-world datasets.
  • They provide insights into the strengths and weaknesses of AUROC and AUPRC, and how they can be used effectively in different scenarios.

Plain English Explanation

In machine learning, we often need to evaluate the performance of our models. Two popular metrics for this are AUROC and AUPRC.

AUROC measures how well a model can distinguish between two classes, like "spam" and "not spam". It shows how the model's ability to correctly identify the positive class (e.g., spam) changes as the decision threshold is adjusted.

AUPRC, on the other hand, focuses more on the model's precision - how many of the positive predictions it makes are actually correct. This is especially important when the classes are imbalanced, meaning one class is much rarer than the other.

The key insight from this paper is that AUROC and AUPRC provide complementary information. AUROC favors overall model improvements in an unbiased way, while AUPRC prioritizes fixing mistakes on the rarer, more important class first. This makes AUPRC better suited for imbalanced datasets, where correctly identifying the minority class is crucial.

The authors also explain how AUROC and AUPRC are probabilistically related, meaning they can provide redundant information in some cases. Understanding these nuances can help researchers choose the right metric for their specific problem and dataset.

Technical Explanation

The paper first establishes the probabilistic relationship between AUROC and AUPRC, showing that they can be derived from each other under certain assumptions. This helps explain why they often provide similar information, but also highlights how they can diverge in certain scenarios.

The authors then delve into how these metrics behave under class imbalance. They demonstrate that AUROC is an unbiased measure of overall model performance, while AUPRC is more sensitive to mistakes on the minority class. This makes AUPRC a better choice when the goal is to prioritize correctly identifying the rare, important class.

Through analytical and empirical analysis, the paper illustrates how AUROC and AUPRC can lead to different conclusions about model performance, especially when the data is skewed. They also discuss how the choice of metric can impact model development and optimization strategies.

Critical Analysis

The paper provides a thorough and well-researched analysis of AUROC and AUPRC, highlighting their strengths, weaknesses, and appropriate use cases. However, the authors acknowledge that their study is limited to binary classification problems, and more research may be needed to extend the insights to multi-class settings.

Additionally, the paper does not delve into the practical implications of choosing between AUROC and AUPRC in real-world applications. While the theoretical analysis is valuable, more guidance on how to navigate this decision in practice would be helpful for researchers and practitioners.

Another area for potential further research is the interaction between AUROC, AUPRC, and other performance metrics, such as F1-score or balanced accuracy. Understanding how these metrics relate to each other and which ones are most suitable for different scenarios could provide a more comprehensive framework for model evaluation.


This paper offers a deep dive into the properties of AUROC and AUPRC, two widely used performance metrics in machine learning. The authors demonstrate that these metrics provide complementary information, with AUROC favoring overall model improvements and AUPRC prioritizing the accurate identification of the minority class.

These insights can help researchers and practitioners choose the right metric for their specific problem and dataset, leading to more informed model development and evaluation decisions. By understanding the nuances of AUROC and AUPRC, the machine learning community can make more effective use of these tools and improve the real-world applicability of their models.

If you enjoyed this summary, consider subscribing to the newsletter or following me on Twitter for more AI and machine learning content.

Top comments (0)