Demystifying Structural Disparity in Graph Neural Networks: Can One Size Fit All?

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 36 (NeurIPS 2023) Main Conference Track

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Haitao Mao, Zhikai Chen, Wei Jin, Haoyu Han, Yao Ma, Tong Zhao, Neil Shah, Jiliang Tang


Recent studies on Graph Neural Networks(GNNs) provide both empirical and theoretical evidence supporting their effectiveness in capturing structural patterns on both homophilic and certain heterophilic graphs. Notably, most real-world homophilic and heterophilic graphs are comprised of a mixture of nodes in both homophilic and heterophilic structural patterns, exhibiting a structural disparity. However, the analysis of GNN performance with respect to nodes exhibiting different structural patterns, e.g., homophilic nodes in heterophilic graphs, remains rather limited. In the present study, we provide evidence that Graph Neural Networks(GNNs) on node classification typically perform admirably on homophilic nodes within homophilic graphs and heterophilic nodes within heterophilic graphs while struggling on the opposite node set, exhibiting a performance disparity. We theoretically and empirically identify effects of GNNs on testing nodes exhibiting distinct structural patterns. We then propose a rigorous, non-i.i.d PAC-Bayesian generalization bound for GNNs, revealing reasons for the performance disparity, namely the aggregated feature distance and homophily ratio difference between training and testing nodes. Furthermore, we demonstrate the practical implications of our new findings via (1) elucidating the effectiveness of deeper GNNs; and (2) revealing an over-looked distribution shift factor on graph out-of-distribution problem and proposing a new scenario accordingly.