James McClelland


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Causal interventions expose implicit situation models for commonsense language understanding
Takateru Yamakoshi | James McClelland | Adele Goldberg | Robert Hawkins
Findings of the Association for Computational Linguistics: ACL 2023

Accounts of human language processing have long appealed to implicit “situation models” that enrich comprehension with relevant but unstated world knowledge. Here, we apply causal intervention techniques to recent transformer models to analyze performance on the Winograd Schema Challenge (WSC), where a single context cue shifts interpretation of an ambiguous pronoun. We identify a relatively small circuit of attention heads that are responsible for propagating information from the context word that guides which of the candidate noun phrases the pronoun ultimately attends to. We then compare how this circuit behaves in a closely matched “syntactic” control where the situation model is not strictly necessary. These analyses suggest a distinct pathway through which implicit situation models may be constructed to guide pronoun resolution


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Can language models learn from explanations in context?
Andrew Lampinen | Ishita Dasgupta | Stephanie Chan | Kory Mathewson | Mh Tessler | Antonia Creswell | James McClelland | Jane Wang | Felix Hill
Findings of the Association for Computational Linguistics: EMNLP 2022

Language Models (LMs) can perform new tasks by adapting to a few in-context examples. For humans, explanations that connect examples to task principles can improve learning. We therefore investigate whether explanations of few-shot examples can help LMs. We annotate questions from 40 challenging tasks with answer explanations, and various matched control explanations. We evaluate how different types of explanations, instructions, and controls affect zero- and few-shot performance. We analyze these results using statistical multilevel modeling techniques that account for the nested dependencies among conditions, tasks, prompts, and models. We find that explanations can improve performance—even without tuning. Furthermore, explanations hand-tuned for performance on a small validation set offer substantially larger benefits, and building a prompt by selecting examples and explanations together substantially improves performance over selecting examples alone. Finally, even untuned explanations outperform carefully matched controls, suggesting that the benefits are due to the link between an example and its explanation, rather than lower-level features. However, only large models benefit. In summary, explanations can support the in-context learning of large LMs on challenging tasks.