Three-class ROC analysis-the equal error utility assumption and the optimality of three-class ROC surface using the ideal observer

Xin He, Eric C. Frey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Previously, we have developed a decision model for three-class receiver operating characteristic (ROC) analysis based on decision theory. The proposed decision model maximizes the expected decision utility under the assumption that incorrect decisions have equal utilities under the same hypothesis (equal error utility assumption). This assumption reduced the dimensionality of the "general" three-class ROC analysis and provided a practical figure-of-merit to evaluate the three-class task performance. However, it also limits the generality of the resulting model because the equal error utility assumption will not apply for all clinical three-class decision tasks. The goal of this study was to investigate the optimality of the proposed three-class decision model with respect to several other decision criteria. In particular, besides the maximum expected utility (MEU) criterion used in the previous study, we investigated the maximum-correctness (MC) (or minimum-error), maximum likelihood (ML), and Nyman-Pearson (N-P) criteria. We found that by making assumptions for both MEU and N-P criteria, all decision criteria lead to the previously-proposed three-class decision model. As a result, this model maximizes the expected utility under the equal error utility assumption, maximizes the probability of making correct decisions, satisfies the N-P criterion in the sense that it maximizes the sensitivity of one class given the sensitivities of the other two classes, and the resulting ROC surface contains the maximum likelihood decision operating point. While the proposed three-class ROC analysis model is not optimal in the general sense due to the use of the equal error utility assumption, the range of criteria for which it is optimal increases its applicability for evaluating and comparing a range of diagnostic systems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number1661694
Pages (from-to)979-986
Number of pages8
JournalIEEE transactions on medical imaging
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 1 2006


  • Ideal observer
  • Three- class classification
  • Three-class receiver operating characteristic (ROC)

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Software
  • Radiological and Ultrasound Technology
  • Computer Science Applications
  • Electrical and Electronic Engineering

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