Decision tree learning

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Decision tree learning uses a decision tree (as a predictive model) to go from observations about an item (represented in the branches) to conclusions about the item's target value (represented in the leaves). It is one of the predictive modelling approaches used in statistics, data mining and machine learning. Tree models where the target variable can take a discrete set of values are called classification trees; in these tree structures, leaves represent class labels and branches represent conjunctions of features that lead to those class labels. Decision trees where the target variable can take continuous values (typically real numbers) are called regression trees.

In decision analysis, a decision tree can be used to visually and explicitly represent decisions and decision making. In data mining, a decision tree describes data (but the resulting classification tree can be an input for decision making). This page deals with decision trees in data mining.

Decision trees used in data mining are of two main types:

  • Classification tree analysis is when the predicted outcome is the class to which the data belongs.
  • Regression tree analysis is when the predicted outcome can be considered a real number (e.g. the price of a house, or a patient's length of stay in a hospital).

The term Classification And Regression Tree (CART) analysis is an umbrella term used to refer to both of the above procedures, first introduced by Breiman et al. in 1984. Trees used for regression and trees used for classification have some similarities - but also some differences, such as the procedure used to determine where to split.