1 Introduction
2 Introduction
Data are organized in graph structures in various domains. Social networks, citation networks, molecular structures, proteinprotein interactions—all of these domains can be modeled using graphs. Developing powerful graph learning methods is important for many realworld applications including recommendation systems Wu et al. (2019), link prediction Zhang and Chen (2018) and drug discovery Klambauer et al. (2017)
. Motivated by the success of deep neural networks, recent years have seen considerable interests in generalizing deep learning techniques to graph learning.
Compared with images and sequence data, graphs have a much complex topographical structure. The nodes in a graph can have a very different number of neighbours, and there is no fixed node ordering for a graph. Early methods are primarily based on recurrent neural networks. These methods involve a process that iteratively propagates node features until these node features reach a stable fixed point. In recent years, graph convolutional networks (GCNs) that leverage graph convolutions have become the dominant approach for graph learning. In GCNs, node features updated by aggregating neighbourhood features. Compared with recurrentbased methods, GCNs are much efficient in learning on graphstructured data.
Although significant progress has been made in improving GCN capacity, overfitting is one of the major issues that affect the performance Yang et al. (2020), resulting in the model not generalizing well on unseen samples. Overfitting can be caused by number of parameters, issues with learning algorithm such as gradient vanishing/exploding. An illustration of this phenomenon is show in Figure 1
, we see that the training accuracies on MNIST and CIFAR10
Dwivedi et al. (2020) for superpixel graph classification are higher than the test accuracies, especially on the CIFAR10 dataset. Graph convolutions update a node feature by aggregating features from the node’s local neighborhood. Repeatedly applying graph convolutions can lead to the oversmoothing Li et al. (2018) issue, i.e., node features converge to similar values. The oversmoothing issue is one of the limitations that restrict the performance of GCNs. This is one of the major reasons that cause the overfitting issue. Due to oversmoothing, existing GCNs usually use several (e.g., 2 to 4) layers to model the relationship between inputs and outputs. Further increasing the number of layers can lead to reduced performance. We show in this work that by tackling oversmoothing, the overfitting issue can be alleviated, and hence the performance of GCNs is improved.Regularization is an effective way to reduce overfitting. However, commonly used regularization methods such as L2 regularization and Dropout Srivastava et al. (2014) can only slightly improve the generalization performance. Most recent efforts have been devoted to improving model capacity, few efforts have been devoted to developing regularization techniques. Rong et al. Rong et al. (2020)
recently proposed the DropEdge method for regularizing graph networks. The DropEdge method randomly removes a number of edges from the input graph at each training epoch. This method works as a data augmentation method and a message passing reducer.
In this paper, we propose a stochastic regularization method to address the oversmoothing issue. In our method, we stochastically scale features and gradients (SSFG) in the training procedure. The factors used for stochastic scaling are sampled from a distribution transformed from the beta distribution. Scaling features can break feature convergence, and therefore the oversmoothing issue is mitigated. Stochastically scaling features can be seen as varying perturbations are applied to latent features, leading the graph network model to learn on the vicinity of node features. We also stochastically scale gradients in backpropagation to prevent overfitting on inputs. We show that applying stochastic scaling at the gradient level provides further performance improvement.
Our SSFG regularization method can be seen as a variant of the Dropout method. Unlike Dropout, we preserve all neurons and stochastically drop or add a small portion of the features in forward propagation. Our method can also be seen as a stochastic rectified linear unit (ReLU) function
Nair and Hinton (2010) when applied together with ReLU. It generalizes the standard ReLU by using stochastic slops in forward and backward propagation.We apply our SSFG regularization method in three graph convolutional networks, i.e, Graphsage Hamilton et al. (2017), graph attention networks (GATs) Veličković et al. (2018) and gated graph convnets (GatedGCN) Bresson and Laurent (2017). We experiment on seven benchmark datasets for four graphbased tasks, i.e., graph classification, node classification, link prediction and graph regression. We show that our regularization method is effective to improve the overall performance of the three baseline graph networks.
The contributions of this paper can be summarized as follows:

We propose a stochastic regularization method for graph convolutional networks. In our method, we stochastically scale features and gradients in the training procedure. As far as we know, this is the first research on regularizing graph convolutional networks at the both the feature level and the gradient level. Our method does not increase model parameters, and we show that our method is able to address the overfitting issue and the underfitting issue.

We experimentally evaluate our SSFG regularization method on three graph networks, i.e., Graphsage, GATs and GatedGCNs. Extensive experimental results demonstrate that our regularization method effectively improves the overall performance of the three baseline graph networks.
3 Related Work
3.1 Graph Convolutional Networks
Graph convolutional networks have become the dominant approach for learning on graphstructured data. Current studies on graph convolutional networks can be categorized into two approaches: the spectralbased approach and the spatialbased approach Wu et al. (2020). The spectralbased approach works with the spectral representation of graphs, and the spatialbased approach directly defines convolutions on graph nodes that are spatially close.
Burana et al. Bruna et al. (2014) proposed the first spectralbased graph network, wherein convolutions are defined in the Fourier domain on the eigendecomposition of the graph Laplacian. Defferrard et al. Defferrard et al. (2016) proposed Chebyshev spectral networks (ChebNets) to address the limitations of Burana’s work. ChebNets approximate the filters using Chebyshev expansion of the graph Laplacian, resulting in spatially localized filters. Kips et al. Kipf and Welling (2017) further introduced an efficient layerwise propagation rule based on the firstorder approximation of spectral convolutions. In spectralbased graph networks, the learned filters depend on the graph structure, therefore a model trained on a specific graph can be applied to graphs with a different structure.
Unlike the spectralbased approach, the spatialbased approach defines convolutions in the spatial domain and learns a node’s feature by propagating information from the node’s neighbors. To deal with variablesized neighbors, several samplingbased methods have been proposed for efficient graph learning. These methods include the nodewise samplingbased method Hamilton et al. (2017), the layerwise samplingbased method Chen et al. (2018) and the adaptive layerwise samplingbased method Huang et al. (2018). Velickovic et al. Veličković et al. (2018) proposed graph attention networks (GATs), in which the selfattention mechanism is used to compute attention weights in aggregation. Zhang et al. Zhang et al. (2018) further proposed gated attention networks that apply selfattention to the outputs multiple attention heads to improve performance. Recently, Bresson et al. Bresson and Laurent (2017) proposed GatedGCNs, integrating edge gates, residual learning He et al. (2016)
Ioffe and Szegedy (2015) into graph networks.3.2 Regularization Methods
Regularization methods have been commonly used to reduce overfitting in training neural networks. Conventional regularization methods include early stopping, i.e., terminating the training procedure when the performance on a validation set stops to increase, Lasso regularization, weight decay and soft weight sharing Nowlan and Hinton (1992).
Srivastava et al. Srivastava et al. (2014) introduced Dropout as a stochastic regularization method for training neural networks. The key idea of Dropout is to randomly drop out neurons from the neural network during training. Dropout can also been seen as perturbing the feature outputted by a layer by setting the randomly selected feature points to zero. The idea behind Dropout has also been adopted in graph networks. For example in GraphSAGE Hamilton et al. (2017), a fixsized number of neighbors are sampled for each node in feature aggregation. This facilitates fast training and also helps improve the generalization performance. The method of node sampling can be seen as using random subgraphs of the original graph in the training procedure. More recently, Rong et al. Rong et al. (2020) proposed the DropEdge method that randomly drops out edges in each training epoch. This method helps to address both the overfitting and oversmoothing issues.
4 Methodology
In this section, we first present the SSFG regularization method, showing its relationship to Dropout and ReLU. Then, we introduce the use of SSFG to regularize graph networks.
4.1 SSFG Regularization
In the Dropout method, neurons, as well as their connections, are randomly dropped out from the neural network during training. Applying Dropout to a neural network can be seen as training many subnetworks of the original network and using the ensemble of these subnetworks to make predictions at test time Srivastava et al. (2014). Although Dropout helps to improve the generalization performance, it does not directly address the oversmoothing issue.
We introduce the SSFG regularization method to address the oversmoothing issue. In SSFG, we stochastically scale node features and gradients in the training procedure. Specifically, we multiply each node feature by a factor sampled from a probability distribution in forward propagation, and in backward propagation the gradient of each node is also multiplied by a factor sampled from the probability distribution. We wish the expectation of node features to be unchanged. To this end, we adopt the following trick to define the scaling factor.
(1) 
where is a probability distribution with the mean equal to 0.5, and
is a hyperparameter. With the above trick, the scaling factor falls in the interval
. By directly scaling features, the oversmoothing issue is mitigated. We detail our SSFG regularization method in Algorithm 1. It is worth noting that the SSFG method does not increase trainable model parameters. Our SSFG regularization is only applied in the training procedure. At test time, we directly use original node features for target tasks.A schematic illustration of the SSFG method and its compassion to Dropout is shown in Figure 2. Dropout performs drop out at the neuron level. Compared to Dropout, our SSFG regularization in forward propagation can be seen as an improved version of Dropout that is applied at the feature level. When the scaling factor is less than , a proportion of the node feature is dropped out; and when the scaling factor is greater than , a proportion of the node feature is added back to the node feature. Stochastically scaling gradients also introduces uncertainty the optimization procedure. This can further helps improve the overall performance. To the best of our knowledge, this is the fist study on regularizing neural networks at the gradient level. We show through experiments that stochastically scaling gradients is complementary to stochastically scaling features to improve the overall performance.
ReLU has been commonly used as the nonlinear activation function in graph networks. When used together with ReLU, SSFG can be seen as a stochastic ReLU function. An illustration of this explanation is shown in Figure
3. By using stochastic slopes in propagating features and gradients, the network model can be robust to different feature variations. This property makes our SSFG method not specific to graph networks. Other networks such as convolutional networks could also use the SSFG method to improve the overall performance.4.2 Regularizing Graph Networks with SSFG
Let a graph with nodes be denoted , where is the node set and the edge set, and be the feature matrix associated with the nodes. The adjacent matrix of is an matrix where equals to if is connected to , or otherwise. Usually we consider the nodes of to be selfconnected. Then, the structure of can be represented as , where
is the identity matrix.
A typical graph convolutional network takes and the graph structure as input and updates node features layerwisely as follows:
(2) 
where is the number of graph convolutional layers and is the set of neighbors of node . Our SSFG regularization is a general method that can be applied to a wide variety of graph networks. In this work, we evaluate SSFG on three types of graph networks, i.e., Graphsage, GATs and GatedGCNs, to demonstrate its effectiveness.
Graphsage In a Graphsage layer, a fixedsize set of neighbors are randomly sampled, and the features of these sampled neighbors are aggregated using an aggregator function, such as the mean operator and LSTM Hochreiter and Schmidhuber (1997) to update a node’s feature as follows:
(3) 
where
is the weight matrix of the shared linear transformation, and
is a nonlinear activation function. SSFG can be applied to input node features to the Graphsage layer or after the nonlinear activation function.GATs In GATs, each neighbor of a node is assigned with an attention weight computed by the selfattention mechanism in feature aggregation as follows:
(4) 
where attn is the attention function. GATs usually employs multiple attention heads to improve the overall performance. By default, we apply our SSFG regularization to the output of each attention head.
GatedGCNs GatedGCNs use the edge gating mechanism Marcheggiani and Titov (2017)
and residual connection in aggregating features from a node’s local neighborhood as follows:
(5)  
where are weight matrices of linear transformations, and is the Hadamard product. GatedGCNs explicitly maintain edge feature at each layer. By default, we apply our SSFG regularization to both the node features and the edge features outputted by a GatedGCN layer.
5 Experiments
Dataset  Graphs  Nodes/graph  Training  Val.  Test 

PATTERN  14K  44188  10,000  2000  2000 
CLASTER  12K  41190  10,000  1000  1000 
MNIST  70K  4075  55,000  5000  10,000 
CIFAR10  60K  85150  45,000  5000  10,000 
TSP  12K  50500  10,000  1000  1000 
COLLAB  1  235,868       
ZINC  12K  937  10,000  1000  1000 
Method  PATTERN  

Test (Acc.)  Train (Acc.)  
Graphsage w/o SSFG  4  50.5160.001  50.4730.014 
Graphsage + SSFG (=+)  50.5160.001  50.4730.014  
Graphsage w/o SSFG  16  50.4920.001  50.4870.005 
Graphsage + SSFG (=+)  50.4920.001  50.4870.005  
GAT w/o SSFG  4  75.8241.823  77.8831.632 
GAT + SSFG (=8.0)  77.2900.469  77.9380.528  
GAT w/o SSFG  16  78.2710.186  90.2120.476 
GAT + SSFG (=8.0)  81.4610.123  82.7240.385  
Gatedgcn w/o SSFG  4  84.4800.122  84.4740.155 
Gatedgcn + SSFG (=3.0)  85.2050.264  85.2830.347  
Gatedgcn + SSFG (=4.0)  85.0160.181  84.9230.202  
Gatedgcn + SSFG (=5.0)  85.3340.175  85.3160.192  
Gatedgcn + SSFG (=6.0)  85.1020.161  85.0660.155  
Gatedgcn w/o SSFG  16  85.5680.088  86.0070.123 
Gatedgcn + SSFG (=3.0)  85.7230.069  85.6250.072  
Gatedgcn + SSFG (=4.0)  85.7170.020  85.6060.012  
Gatedgcn + SSFG (=5.0)  85.6510.054  85.5950.048 
Method  CLUSTER  

Test (Acc.)  Train (Acc.)  
Graphsage w/o SSFG  4  50.4540.145  54.3740.203 
Graphsage + SSFG (=5.0)  50.5620.070  53.0140.025  
Graphsage vanilla  16  63.8440.110  86.7100.167 
Graphsage + SSFG (=7.0)  66.8510.066  79.2200.023  
GAT w/o SSFG  4  57.7320.323  58.3310.342 
GAT + SSFG (=7.0)  59.8880.044  59.6560.025  
GAT w/o SSFG  16  70.5870.447  76.0741.362 
GAT + SSFG (=4.0)  73.6890.088  79.4760.302  
Gatedgcn w/o SSFG  4  60.4040.419  61.6180.536 
Gatedgcn + SSFG (=6.0)  61.0280.302  62.4150.311  
Gatedgcn + SSFG (=7.0)  61.2220.267  62.8440.352  
Gatedgcn + SSFG (=8.0)  61.4980.267  63.3100.343  
Gatedgcn + SSFG (=9.0)  61.3750.047  63.0490.134  
Gatedgcn w/o SSFG  16  73.8400.326  87.8800.908 
Gatedgcn + SSFG (=4.0)  75.6710.084  83.7690.035  
Gatedgcn + SSFG (=5.0)  75.9600.020  83.6230.652  
Gatedgcn + SSFG (=6.0)  75.6010.078  84.5160.299 
Method  MNIST  

Test (Acc.)  Train (Acc.)  
Graphsage vanilla  97.3120.097  100.000.000 
Graphsage + SSFG (=5.0)  97.9430.147  99.9960.002 
GAT vanilla  95.5350.205  99.9940.008 
GAT + SSFG (=2.0)  97.9380.075  99.9960.002 
Gatedgcn vanilla  97.3400.143  100.000.000 
Gatedgcn + SSFG (=1.0)  97.8480.106  99.8890.035 
Gatedgcn + SSFG (=1.5)  97.7300.116  99.9750.004 
Gatedgcn + SSFG (=2.0)  97.9850.032  99.9960.001 
Gatedgcn + SSFG (=2.5)  97.7030.054  99.9960.001 
Method  CIFAR10  

Test (Acc.)  Train (Acc.)  
Graphsage vanilla  65.7670.308  99.7190.062 
Graphsage + SSFG (=4.0)  68.8030.471  89.8450.166 
GAT vanilla  64.2230.455  89.1140.499 
GAT + SSFG (=4.0)  66.0650.171  84.3830.986 
Gatedgcn vanilla  67.3120.311  94.5531.018 
Gatedgcn + SSFG (=1.0)  71.5850.361  83.8781.146 
Gatedgcn + SSFG (=1.5)  71.9380.190  87.4730.593 
Gatedgcn + SSFG (=2.0)  71.3830.427  87.7450.973 
Gatedgcn + SSFG (=2.5)  70.9130.306  88.6450.750 
Method  TSP  

Test (F1)  Train (F1)  
Graphsage w/o SSFG  0.6650.003  0.6690.003 
Graphsage + SSFG (=5.0)  0.7140.003  0.7170.003 
GAT w/o SSFG  0.6710.002  0.6730.002 
GAT + SSFG (=300)  0.6820.000  0.6840.0001 
Gatedgcn w/o SSFG  0.7910.003  0.7930.003 
Gatedgcn + SSFG (=4.0)  0.8020.001  0.8040.001 
Gatedgcn + SSFG (=5.0)  0.8060.001  0.8070.001 
Gatedgcn + SSFG (=6.0)  0.8050.001  0.8080.001 
Gatedgcn + SSFG (=7.0)  0.8050.001  0.8070.001 
Method  COLLAB  

Test (Hits@50)  Train (Hits@50)  
Graphsage w/o SSFG  51.6180.690  99.9490.052 
Graphsage + SSFG (=4.0)  53.1460.230  98.2801.300 
GAT w/o SSFG  51.5010.962  97.8511.114 
GAT + SSFG (=4.0)  53.6160.400  97.7000.132 
GAT + SSFG (=5.0)  53.9080.253  97.8350.182 
GAT + SSFG (=6.0)  54.7150.069  97.9290.189 
GAT + SSFG (=7.0)  54.2520.092  98.0840.340 
Gatedgcn w/o SSFG  52.6351.168  96.1031.876 
Gatedgcn + SSFG (=5.0)  53.0550.671  92.5350.989 
Method  ZINC  

Test (MAE )  Train (MAE )  
Graphsage vanilla  0.4680.003  0.2510.004 
Graphsage + SSFG (=10)  0.4410.006  0.1910.005 
GAT vanilla  0.4750.007  0.3170.006 
GAT + SSFG (=20)  0.4660.001  0.3290.010 
Gatedgcn vanilla  0.4350.011  0.2870.014 
Gatedgcn + SSFG (=4)  0.4150.007  0.3160.008 
Gatedgcn + SSFG (=5)  0.4130.006  0.3150.008 
Gatedgcn + SSFG (=6)  0.4040.0003  0.2960.005 
Gatedgcn + SSFG (=7)  0.3980.001  0.2860.007 
5.1 Experimental Setup
Our experiments are conducted on seven recently released benchmark datasets, i.e., PATTERN, CLUSTER, MNIST, CIFAR10, TSP, COLLAB and ZINC Dwivedi et al. (2020). These datasets are used for four graphbased tasks: node classification (PATTERN, CLUSTER), graph classification (MNIST, CIFAR10), link prediction (TSP, COLLAB) and graph regression (ZINC). The statistics of the seven datasets are given in Table 1.
We closely follow the experimental setup used in the work of Dwivedi et al. Dwivedi et al. (2020). The Adam method Kingma and Ba (2014) is used to train all the models. The learning rate is initialized to and reduced by a factor of 2 if the loss has not improved for a number of epochs (10 or 20). The training procedure is terminated when the learning rate is reduced to smaller than
. For the node classification task, we experiment using different layers (4 and 16). For the remaining tasks, the number of layers is set to 4. For each evaluation, we run the experiment 4 times using different random seeds and report the mean and standard deviation of the 4 results. Our method is implemented using Pytorch
Paszke et al. (2017) and the DGL library Wang et al. (2019).Evaluation Metrics Following Dwivedi et al. (2020)
, the following evaluation metrics are used for different tasks.

Accuracy. Weighted average node classification accuracy is used for the node classification task (PATTERN and CLUSTER), and classification accuracy is used for the graph classification task (MNIST and CIFAR10).

F1 score is used for evaluation on the TSP dataset, due to high class imbalance, i.e., only the edges in the TSP tour are labeled as positive.

Hits@K Hu et al. (2020) is used for the COLLAB dataset, aiming to measure a model’s ability to predict future collaboration relationships. This method ranks each true collaboration against 100,000 randomly sampled negative collaborations and counts the ratio of positive edges that are ranked at th place or above.

MAE (mean absolute error) is used to evaluate graph regression performance on ZINC.
5.2 Experimental Results
5.2.1 Quantitative Results
Table 2 reports the quantitative results of node classification on PATTERN and CLUSTER. It can be seen that applying SSFG regularization effectively improves the test accuracies except for Graphsage on the PATTERN dataset. Applying SSFG regularization to GATs with 16 layers yields 3.190% and 3.102% performance improvements on PATTERN and CLUSTER, respectively. These improvements are higher than those obtained for GATs with 4 layers. For GatedGCNs, applying SSFG regularization yields more performance improvements on CLUSTER than on PATTERN.
The graph classification results on MNIST and CIFAR10 are shown in Table 3. We see that applying our SSFG regularization method helps improve performance for the three baseline graph networks on the two datasets. While vanilla Graphsage and GateGCN perform well compared to GAT on MNIST, the three baseline graph networks with SSFG regularization achieve comparable performance. On CIFAR10, applying our SSFG method to GatedGCN improves the accuracy from 67.312% to 71.938, yielding a 4.626% performance gain, which is higher than those otained by applying the SSFG to Graphsage and GAT.
The link prediction results are given in Table 4. Once again, applying SSFG achieves improved performance for the three baseline graph networks. On TSP, the use of SSFG regularization in Graphsage, GAT and GatedGCN yields 0.049, 0.011 and 0.015 performance gains, respectively. On the COLLAB dataset, applying SSFG to Graphsage and GAT yields 2.528 and 3.214 performance improvements, respectively. For GatedGCN, SSFG only slightly improves the prediction performance.
Table 5 reports the experimental results on ZINC, demonstrating the effectiveness of our SSFG regularization to improve the graph regression performance. Applying the SSFG method improves the overall performance of the three baseline graph networks. For Graphsage, GAT and GatedGCN, the use of SSFG reduces 0.027, 0.009 and 0.037 mean absolute errors, respectively.
We have shown that our SSFG method helps improve the performance of the three baseline graph networks for different graphbased tasks. For most experiments, the performance on test data improves while that on training data reduces. These improvements are obtained through reducing the overfitting issue. It is worth noting that for some experiments, e.g., the experiments on TSP and the experiments of GatedGCN with 4 layers on PATTERN and CLUSTER, the performance for the test data and that for the training data improve simultaneously. This shows that our SSFG method also helps to address the underfitting issue.
Besides, we observe that for most experiments our SSFG regularization method results in small standard deviations. For example, the use of our SSFG regularization consistently results in small standard deviations on CLUSTER, COLLAB and ZINC compared to those obtained without using SSFG regularization. This shows that our SSFG method can stabilize the learning algorithms.
For the graph network that achieves the highest performance improvements in different tasks, we also show the impact of the value of used for sampling scaling factors on performance in the quantitative results. We see that the value of has different impacts for different tasks. Even for the same task, a graph network with different layers may use different values of to obtain the best performance. This suggests that the value of needs to be tuned for the best task performance.
Figure 4 shows the training and test accuracy curves with respect to the training epoch. We see that our SSFG method can help address both the overfitting issue and the underfitting issue. Compared with the work of Dwivedi Dwivedi et al. (2020), we use a large patience value for the optimizer when learning on some datasets. Therefore, it can take more epochs to finish the training procedure. We also observe that the training procedure takes comparable epochs on some datasets, for example on the MNIST dataset, as that without using SSFG regularization. As aforementioned, our method can be seen as a stochastic ReLU function. The results show that our method outperforms standard ReLU in graph representation learning. It is also worth noting that our method does not increase the number of learnable parameters.
5.2.2 Broader Impact
We have shown that our SSFG regularization method is effective in improving graph representation learning performance. Our SSFG method helps to address both the overfitting issue and the underfitting issue. When used together with ReLU, the SSFG method can be seen as a stochastic ReLU function. This explanation makes our SSFG method not specific for graph networks. Overfitting and underfitting are also issues with neural networks for other tasks such as image recognition and natural language processing. Our SSFG method could replace the ReLU function for these tasks to improve the overall performance, especially when training data are small.
6 Conclusions
In this paper, we presented a stochastic regularization method for graph networks. In our method, we stochastically scale features and gradients by a factor sampled from a probability distribution in the training procedure. Our method can help address the oversmoothing issue caused by repeatedly applying graph convolutional layers. We showed that applying stochastic scaling at the feature level is complementary to that at the gradient level in improving the overall performance. When used together with ReLU, our method can also be seen as a stochastic ReLU function. We experimentally validated our SSFG regularization method on seven benchmark datasets for different graphbased tasks. The experimental results demonstrated that our method can help address both the overfitting issue and the underfitting issue.
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