How to Calculate AUC (Area Under the Curve) in R

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Area Under the Curve (AUC) is a powerful metric used in machine learning to evaluate the performance of binary classification models. The AUC represents the ability of a model to distinguish between positive and negative classes. An AUC of 1 means the model perfectly separates the two classes, while an AUC of 0.5 indicates the model can’t distinguish between the classes any better than random chance.

The AUC is often visualized through a Receiver Operating Characteristic (ROC) curve, a plot that displays the true positive rate against the false positive rate at various threshold settings. The AUC is literally the area under this ROC curve.

R, a popular language for statistical analysis and machine learning, provides several packages and functions for calculating and visualizing the AUC. In this comprehensive guide, we will explain how to calculate AUC in R using different methods.

Understanding AUC and ROC Curves

Before diving into the R code, it’s essential to understand what the AUC and ROC curves are.

The ROC curve is a graphical representation of the contrast between true positive rates and the false positive rate at various thresholds. It’s used to measure the performance of a classification model, and the AUC is the region under the ROC curve.

As a rule of thumb, a model with a high AUC is considered good at predicting 0s as 0s and 1s as 1s. In contrast, a model with a low AUC is considered poor at distinguishing between the two outcomes.

Preparing the Environment

The first step to calculate AUC in R is to install and load the required packages. We’ll use the pROC package, which is a set of tools for visualizing, smoothing, and comparing ROC curves. If you haven’t installed it yet, you can do so using the install.packages() function:


Once installed, load the pROC library into your R environment:


Preparing the Data

For the sake of this demonstration, we’ll use the built-in R dataset “mtcars”, a moderately-sized data frame with measurements on various car models. For the sake of a binary classification problem, we’ll create a binary variable that classifies cars based on their MPG value:

# Load mtcars dataset

# Create a binary variable for MPG > 20
mtcars$mpg20 <- ifelse(mtcars$mpg > 20, 1, 0)

Creating a Classification Model

Next, we will build a simple logistic regression model using the glm() function:

# Build logistic regression model
model <- glm(mpg20 ~ ., data = mtcars, family = binomial)

# Print model summary

Calculating AUC

Now that we have a classification model, we can proceed to calculate the AUC. To do this, we first need to predict the probabilities of the positive class using our model:

# Predict probabilities
probs <- predict(model, type = "response")

The predict() function generates the probabilities for each observation in our dataset. We specified type = "response" to get the predicted probabilities of the positive class.

Now, let’s calculate the AUC using the roc() function from the pROC package. This function calculates the ROC curve, and the auc() function extracts the AUC from the ROC curve:

# Calculate ROC
roc_obj <- roc(mtcars$mpg20, probs)

# Print ROC

# Calculate AUC

The roc() function takes two arguments: the true binary classifications and the predicted probabilities of the positive class. The auc() function then calculates the AUC.

Visualizing the ROC Curve

In addition to calculating the AUC, we can also plot the ROC curve using the plot() function:

# Plot ROC curve
plot(roc_obj, main="ROC Curve")
# Add a line for random guessing
abline(h = 0, v = 1, col = "red")

The plot displays the ROC curve of our model. The red line represents a model with an AUC of 0.5 (random guessing).


AUC is a robust performance metric for binary classification models, providing a single measure that lets you compare models. The AUC represents a model’s ability to distinguish between positive and negative classes, making it especially useful for imbalanced datasets.

R, with its comprehensive libraries for statistical and machine learning tasks, provides straightforward functions for calculating and visualizing the AUC. By understanding and calculating the AUC, data scientists can choose the models that will provide the highest predictive power.

As always, while the AUC is a powerful tool, it’s important to understand its limitations. No single metric can tell the whole story, so it’s crucial to evaluate your models using a variety of metrics and understand the trade-offs involved. Always consider the AUC in the context of your specific project and objectives.

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