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Sigmoid or Softmax for Binary Classification

Zhenghao Wu


Status: Finished Confidence: certain Importance: 8

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This post is part of the Machine Learning series.

Recently, been asked a question on using neural networks for binary classification.

The output layer of the network can be … One output neuron with sigmoid activation function or Two neurons and then apply a softmax activation function. But what is the difference between these two?

Let start with the equations of the two functions.

Sigmoid Activation Function $$ S(x) = \frac{1}{ 1+e^{-x}} $$

We input the value of the last layer $x$, and we can get a value in the range 0 to 1 as shown in the figure. If the value is greater than 0.5, we consider the model output as one class, or the other class if the value is less than 0.5.

The logistic sigmoid function Wikimedia Commons

Softmax Activation Function $$ \sigma(z)_i = \frac{e^{z_i}}{ \sum_{j=1}^K e^{z_j}} $$

Softmax usually use on multi-classes classification. We have multiple output neurons, and each one represents one class. With the values of these neurons as input. We can get the probabilities of each class. The sum of the probabilities is equal to 1. After give such probabilities distribution of the classes, we then use ArgmaxArgmax: The operation that finds the argument with maximum value. Usually for finding the class with the largest probability. to get the model output.


From a mathematical point of view, these two methods are the same.

$$ \frac{1}{ 1+e^{-x}} = \frac{1}{ 1+\frac{1}{e^{x}}} = \frac{1}{\frac{e^{x}+1}{e^{x}}} = \frac{e^{x}}{1+e^{x}} = \frac{e^{x}}{e^0+e^{x}} $$

We can transform the sigmoid function into softmax formRetrived from: Neural Network: For Binary Classification use 1 or 2 output neurons?. So sigmoid activation can consider as a special case of softmax activation with one of the two nodes have no weight given to it (just one node is working).

From the architectural point of view, they are clearly different. Although there is no empirical result to show which one is better. It is clear to show that if the softmax way is chosen, the model will have more parameters that need to learn. So I think that is why people usually use one output neuron and the sigmoid activation function for binary classification.



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For "Sigmoid or Softmax for Binary Classification"

Author Zhenghao Wu
Publish & Update Date 2021-06-07 - 2022-01-09
Tags Machine Learning Classification Softmax Sigmoid Activation Function

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