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A Neural Collapse Perspective on Feature Evolution in Graph Neural Networks

Vignesh Kothapalli · Tom Tirer · Joan Bruna

Great Hall & Hall B1+B2 (level 1) #815
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Thu 14 Dec 3 p.m. PST — 5 p.m. PST


Graph neural networks (GNNs) have become increasingly popular for classification tasks on graph-structured data. Yet, the interplay between graph topology and feature evolution in GNNs is not well understood. In this paper, we focus on node-wise classification, illustrated with community detection on stochastic block model graphs, and explore the feature evolution through the lens of the "Neural Collapse" (NC) phenomenon. When training instance-wise deep classifiers (e.g. for image classification) beyond the zero training error point, NC demonstrates a reduction in the deepest features' within-class variability and an increased alignment of their class means to certain symmetric structures. We start with an empirical study that shows that a decrease in within-class variability is also prevalent in the node-wise classification setting, however, not to the extent observed in the instance-wise case. Then, we theoretically study this distinction. Specifically, we show that even an "optimistic" mathematical model requires that the graphs obey a strict structural condition in order to possess a minimizer with exact collapse. Furthermore, by studying the gradient dynamics of this model, we provide reasoning for the partial collapse observed empirically. Finally, we present a study on the evolution of within- and between-class feature variability across layers of a well-trained GNN and contrast the behavior with spectral methods.

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