On pixel-wise explanations for non-linear classifier decisions by layer-wise relevance propagation

Sebastian Bach, Alexander Binder, Grégoire Montavon, Frederick Klauschen, Klaus Robert Müller, Wojciech Samek

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2414 Citations (Scopus)


Understanding and interpreting classification decisions of automated image classification systems is of high value in many applications, as it allows to verify the reasoning of the system and provides additional information to the human expert. Although machine learning methods are solving very successfully a plethora of tasks, they have in most cases the disadvantage of acting as a black box, not providing any information about what made them arrive at a particular decision. This work proposes a general solution to the problem of understanding classification decisions by pixel-wise decomposition of nonlinear classifiers. We introduce a methodology that allows to visualize the contributions of single pixels to predictions for kernel-based classifiers over Bag of Words features and for multilayered neural networks. These pixel contributions can be visualized as heatmaps and are provided to a human expert who can intuitively not only verify the validity of the classification decision, but also focus further analysis on regions of potential interest.We evaluate our method for classifiers trained on PASCAL VOC 2009 images, synthetic image data containing geometric shapes, the MNIST handwritten digits data set and for the pre-trained ImageNet model available as part of the Caffe open source package.

Original languageEnglish
Article number0130140
JournalPloS one
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 2015 Jul 10

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported in part by the Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology of Germany (BMWi) under the project THESEUS, grant 01MQ07018, by the German Ministry for Education and Research as Berlin Big Data Center BBDC, funding mark 01IS14013A and by DFG. KRM thanks for partial funding by the National Research Foundation of Korea funded by the Ministry of Education, Science, and Technology in the BK21 program. Correspondence should be addressed to SB, KRM and WS.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 Bach et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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