I have trained a simple CNN (using Python + Lasagne) for a 2-class EEG classification problem, however, the network doesn't seem to learn. loss does not drop over epochs and classification accuracy doesn't drop from random guessing (50%):

training curve


  1. Is there anything wrong with the code that is causing this?
  2. Is there a better (more correct?) way to handle EEG data?

EEG setup

Data is collected from participants completing a total of 1044 EEG trials. Each trial lasts 2 seconds (512 time samples), has 64 channels of EEG data, and labelled 0/1. All trials have been shuffled so as to not learn on one set of participants and test on another.

The goal is to predict the label of a trial after being given the 64x512 matrix of raw EEG data

The raw input data (which I can't show here as its part of a research project) has a shape of (1044, 1, 64, 512)

train/validation/test splits are then created at 60/20/20%

With such a small dataset I would have thought overfitting would be a problem, but training loss doesn't seem to reflect that


Network architecture:

def build_cnn(input_var=None):
    l_in = InputLayer(shape=(None, 1, 64, 512), input_var=input_var)

    l_conv1 = Conv2DLayer(incoming = l_in, num_filters = 32, filter_size = (1, 3),
                        stride = 1, pad = 'same', W = lasagne.init.Normal(std = 0.02),
                        nonlinearity = lasagne.nonlinearities.rectify)

    l_pool1 = Pool2DLayer(incoming = l_conv1, pool_size = (1, 2), stride = (2, 2))

    l_fc = lasagne.layers.DenseLayer(
            lasagne.layers.dropout(l_pool1, p=.5),

    l_out = lasagne.layers.DenseLayer(
            lasagne.layers.dropout(l_fc, p=.5),

    return l_out

Note: I have tried adding more conv/pool layers as I thought the network wasnt deep enough to learn the categories but 1) this doesn't change the outcome I mentioned above and 2) I've seen other EEG classification code where a simple 1 conv layer network can get above random chance

Helper for creating mini batches:

def iterate_minibatches(inputs, targets, batchsize, shuffle=False):
    assert len(inputs) == len(targets)
    if shuffle:
        indices = np.arange(len(inputs))
    for start_idx in range(0, len(inputs) - batchsize + 1, batchsize):
        if shuffle:
            excerpt = indices[start_idx:start_idx + batchsize]
            excerpt = slice(start_idx, start_idx + batchsize)
        yield inputs[excerpt], targets[excerpt]

Running the model:

def main(model='cnn', batch_size=500, num_epochs=500):
    input_var = T.tensor4('inputs')
    target_var = T.ivector('targets')

    network = build_cnn(input_var)

    prediction = lasagne.layers.get_output(network)
    loss = lasagne.objectives.categorical_crossentropy(prediction, target_var)
    loss = loss.mean()

    train_acc = T.mean(T.eq(T.argmax(prediction, axis=1), target_var),

    params = lasagne.layers.get_all_params(network, trainable=True)

    updates = lasagne.updates.nesterov_momentum(loss, params, learning_rate=0.01)

    test_prediction = lasagne.layers.get_output(network, deterministic=True)
    test_loss = lasagne.objectives.categorical_crossentropy(test_prediction,
    test_loss = test_loss.mean()

    test_acc = T.mean(T.eq(T.argmax(test_prediction, axis=1), target_var),

    train_fn = theano.function([input_var, target_var], [loss, train_acc], updates=updates)

    val_fn = theano.function([input_var, target_var], [test_loss, test_acc])

    print("Starting training...")

    for epoch in range(num_epochs):
        # full pass over the training data:
        train_err = 0
        train_acc = 0
        train_batches = 0
        start_time = time.time()
        for batch in iterate_minibatches(train_data, train_labels, batch_size, shuffle=True):
            inputs, targets = batch
            err, acc = train_fn(inputs, targets)
            train_err += err
            train_acc += acc
            train_batches += 1

        # full pass over the validation data:
        val_err = 0
        val_acc = 0
        val_batches = 0
        for batch in iterate_minibatches(val_data, val_labels, batch_size, shuffle=False):
            inputs, targets = batch
            err, acc = val_fn(inputs, targets)
            val_err += err
            val_acc += acc
            val_batches += 1

    # After training, compute the test predictions/error:
    test_err = 0
    test_acc = 0
    test_batches = 0
    for batch in iterate_minibatches(test_data, test_labels, batch_size, shuffle=False):
        inputs, targets = batch
        err, acc = val_fn(inputs, targets)
        test_err += err
        test_acc += acc
        test_batches += 1

# Run the model
main(batch_size=5, num_epochs=30)

3 Answers 3


I had the same problem when I used TensorFlow to build a self driving car. The training error for my neural nets bounced around forever and never converged on a minimum. As a sanity check I couldn't even intentionally get my models to overfit, so I knew something was definitely wrong. What worked for me was scaling my inputs. My inputs were pixel color channels between 0 and 255, so I divided all values by 255. From that point onward, my model training (and validation) error hit a minimum as expected and stopped bouncing around. I was surprised how big of a difference it made. I can't guarantee it will work for your case, but it's definitely worth trying, since it's easy to implement.


There are a lot of possible reasons why your setup might not work. However, one very good start is to try to overfit your model on a very small subsample of your entire dataset just to see if the problem is in the code.


1.Your input layer seems off, the first dimension is for channels, please try, with the data formatted correctly :

l_in = InputLayer(shape=(None, 64, 512, 1 ), input_var=input_var)

A more clean way would be to replace the conv2dlayer by a conv1dLayer, which is what you are replicating.

2.There is no correct way to handle eeg. But people often also use spectrograms and feature extraction

  • $\begingroup$ yeah I tried reshapping my data and using a 1d convolution instead. Much much faster, but I still get the same problem as above with no learning. What type of features are normally extracted? I've seen EEG classification examples where the raw broadband signal is used without manual feature engineering which is why I thought this would be possible $\endgroup$
    – Simon
    Commented Nov 14, 2016 at 18:37
  • $\begingroup$ Features are endless : spectral entropy and Shannon's entropy (MacKay, 2003) at six frequency bands: delta (0.1-4 Hz), theta (4-8 Hz), alpha (8-12 Hz), beta (12-30 Hz), low-gamma (30-70 Hz) and high gamma (70- 180 Hz), Shannon's entropy in dyadic (between 0.00167 and 109 Hz spaced by factors of 2n) frequency bands, the spectral edge at 50% power below 40 Hz, spectral correlation between channels in dyadic frequency bands etc... $\endgroup$
    – mxdbld
    Commented Nov 15, 2016 at 0:06
  • $\begingroup$ As for your network not learning, CNN over spectrograms, CNN over one channel averaged for every has been know to work. Why yours does not learn, there are too many possibilities without the whole code & data $\endgroup$
    – mxdbld
    Commented Nov 15, 2016 at 0:10
  • $\begingroup$ As a last rule of thumb, a neural network is a high variance model. Given enough nodes, it can learn "by heart" all your data and your training score should rise. Here, if you do not learn anything, either your model is too simple or the algorithm not working $\endgroup$
    – mxdbld
    Commented Nov 15, 2016 at 11:14

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