Understanding the detrimental class-level effects of data augmentation

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 36 (NeurIPS 2023) Main Conference Track

Bibtex Paper Supplemental


Polina Kirichenko, Mark Ibrahim, Randall Balestriero, Diane Bouchacourt, Shanmukha Ramakrishna Vedantam, Hamed Firooz, Andrew G. Wilson


Data augmentation (DA) encodes invariance and provides implicit regularization critical to a model's performance in image classification tasks. However, while DA improves average accuracy, recent studies have shown that its impact can be highly class dependent: achieving optimal average accuracy comes at the cost of significantly hurting individual class accuracy by as much as 20% on ImageNet. There has been little progress in resolving class-level accuracy drops due to a limited understanding of these effects. In this work, we present a framework for understanding how DA interacts with class-level learning dynamics. Using higher-quality multi-label annotations on ImageNet, we systematically categorize the affected classes and find that the majority are inherently ambiguous, co-occur, or involve fine-grained distinctions, while DA controls the model's bias towards one of the closely related classes. While many of the previously reported performance drops are explained by multi-label annotations, we identify other sources of accuracy degradations by analyzing class confusions. We show that simple class-conditional augmentation strategies informed by our framework improve performance on the negatively affected classes.