# Why is ROC AUC equivalent to the probability that two randomly-selected samples are correctly ranked? [duplicate]

I found there are two ways to understand what AUC stands for but I couldn't get why these two interpretations are equivalent mathematically.

In the first interpretation, AUC is the area under the ROC curve. Picking points from 0 to 1 as threshold and calculate sensitivity and specificity accordingly. When we plot them against each other, we get ROC curve.

The second one is that the AUC of a classifier is equal to the probability that the classifier will rank a randomly chosen positive example higher than a randomly chosen negative example, i.e. P(score(x+)>score(x−)). (from What does AUC stand for and what is it?)

It's easy to see once you obtained a closed-form formula for AUC.

Since we have finite number of samples $$\{(x_i, y_i)\}_{i=1}^N$$, we'll have finite number of points on the ROC curve. We do linear interpolation in between.

First, some definitions. Suppose we'd like to evaluate an algorithm $$A(x)$$ that outputs a probability of $$x$$ lying in the positive class $$+1$$. Let's define $$N_+$$ as the number of samples in the positive class $$+1$$ and $$N_-$$ as the number of samples in the negative class $$-1$$. Now, for a threshold $$\tau$$ let's define False-Positive-Rate (FPR, aka 1-specificity) and True-Positive-Rate (TPR, aka sensitivity):

$$\text{TPR}(\tau) = \frac{\sum_{i=1}^N [y_i = +1] [A(x_i) \ge \tau]}{N_+} \quad \text{and} \quad \text{FPR}(\tau) = \frac{\sum_{i=1}^N [y_i = -1] [A(x_i) \ge \tau]}{N_-}$$

(where $$[\text{boolean expression}]$$ is 1 if expression is true, and 0 otherwise). Then, ROC curve is built from points of the form $$(\text{FPR}(\tau), \text{TPR}(\tau))$$ for different values of $$\tau$$. Moreover, it's easy to see that if we order our samples $$x_{(i)}$$ (note the parentheses) according to the algorithm's output $$A(x_i)$$, then neither $$\text{TPR}$$ nor $$\text{FPR}$$ changes for $$\tau$$ between consecutive samples $$A(x_{(i)}) < \tau < A(x_{(i+1)})$$. So it's enough to evaluate FPR and TPR only for $$\tau \in \{A(x_{(1)}), \dots, A(x_{(N)})\}$$. For $$k^{\text{th}}$$ point we have

$$\text{TPR}_k = \frac{\sum_{i=k}^N [y_{(i)} = +1]}{N_+} \quad \text{and} \quad \text{FPR}_k = \frac{\sum_{i=k}^N [y_{(i)} = -1]}{N_-}$$

(Note both sequences are non-increasing in $$k$$). These sequences define x and y coordinates of points on the ROC curve. Next, we linearly interpolate these points to get the curve itself and calculate area under the curve (Using a formula for area of a trapezoid):

\begin{align*} \text{AUC} &= \sum_{k=1}^{N-1} \frac{\text{TPR}_{k+1} + \text{TPR}_{k}}{2} (\text{FPR}_{k} - \text{FPR}_{k+1}) \\ &= \sum_{k=1}^{N-1} \frac{\sum_{i=k+1}^N [y_{(i)} = +1] + \tfrac{1}{2} [y_{(k)} = +1]}{N_+} \frac{[y_{(k)} = -1]}{N_-} \\ &= \frac{1}{N_+ N_-} \sum_{k=1}^{N-1} \sum_{i=k+1}^N [y_{(i)} = +1] [y_{(k)} = -1] = \frac{1}{N_+ N_-} \sum_{k < i} [y_{(k)} < y_{(i)}] \end{align*}

Here I used the fact that $$[y = -1] [y = +1] = 0$$ for any $$y$$.

So there you have it: AUC is proportional to the number of correctly ordered pairs, which is proportional to the probability of random pair of samples being ranked according to their labels.

• Thanks @Barmaley.exe. This is really helpful. Finally connect the dots. A following up question though, is how AUC is equivalent to Mann Whitney U test. – Felicia.H Jan 15 '16 at 19:48
• I don't have an answer to that, but either way it'd not be a good idea to answer another (mostly unrelated) question here. I suggest you create a new thread. – Artem Sobolev Jan 15 '16 at 20:09
• This is all covered in Hanley and McNeil 1982: pubs.rsna.org/doi/10.1148/radiology.143.1.7063747 (Wilcoxon-Mann-Whitney equivalence etc.). – Frank Harrell Jan 13 '19 at 13:17