Decision tree

A decision tree is a decision support tool that uses a tree-like model of decisions and their possible consequences, including chance event outcomes, resource costs, and utility. It is one way to display an algorithm that only contains conditional control statements.

Machine learningData mining


contributed at 2020-12-17


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Method-focused categoriesData-perspectiveIntelligent computation analysis

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A decision tree is a flowchart-like structure in which each internal node represents a "test" on an attribute (e.g. whether a coin flip comes up heads or tails), each branch represents the outcome of the test, and each leaf node represents a class label (decision taken after computing all attributes). The paths from root to leaf represent classification rules.

In decision analysis, a decision tree and the closely related influence diagram are used as a visual and analytical decision support tool, where the expected values (or expected utility) of competing alternatives are calculated.

A decision tree consists of three types of nodes:

  1. Decision nodes – typically represented by squares
  2. Chance nodes – typically represented by circles
  3. End nodes – typically represented by triangles

Decision trees are commonly used in operations research and operations management. If, in practice, decisions have to be taken online with no recall under incomplete knowledge, a decision tree should be paralleled by a probability model as a best choice model or online selection model algorithm. Another use of decision trees is as a descriptive means for calculating conditional probabilities.

Decision trees, influence diagrams, utility functions, and other decision analysis tools and methods are taught to undergraduate students in schools of business, health economics, and public health, and are examples of operations research or management science methods.

Decision tree elements


Drawn from left to right, a decision tree has only burst nodes (splitting paths) but no sink nodes (converging paths). Therefore, used manually, they can grow very big and are then often hard to draw fully by hand. Traditionally, decision trees have been created manually – as the aside example shows – although increasingly, specialized software is employed.

Decision rule

The decision tree can be linearized into decision rules, where the outcome is the contents of the leaf node, and the conditions along the path form a conjunction in the if clause. In general, the rules have the form:

if condition1 and condition2 and condition3 then outcome.

Decision rules can be generated by constructing association rules with the target variable on the right. They can also denote temporal or causal relations.

Decision tree using flowchart symbols

Commonly a decision tree is drawn using flowchart symbols as it is easier for many to read and understand.


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How to Cite

Zhen Qian (2020). Decision tree, Model Item, OpenGMS,

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Initial contribute: 2020-12-17


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