Michael Bernstein


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On Second Thought, Let’s Not Think Step by Step! Bias and Toxicity in Zero-Shot Reasoning
Omar Shaikh | Hongxin Zhang | William Held | Michael Bernstein | Diyi Yang
Proceedings of the 61st Annual Meeting of the Association for Computational Linguistics (Volume 1: Long Papers)

Generating a Chain of Thought (CoT) has been shown to consistently improve large language model (LLM) performance on a wide range of NLP tasks. However, prior work has mainly focused on logical reasoning tasks (e.g. arithmetic, commonsense QA); it remains unclear whether improvements hold for more diverse types of reasoning, especially in socially situated contexts. Concretely, we perform a controlled evaluation of zero-shot CoT across two socially sensitive domains: harmful questions and stereotype benchmarks. We find that zero-shot CoT reasoning in sensitive domains significantly increases a model’s likelihood to produce harmful or undesirable output, with trends holding across different prompt formats and model variants. Furthermore, we show that harmful CoTs increase with model size, but decrease with improved instruction following. Our work suggests that zero-shot CoT should be used with caution on socially important tasks, especially when marginalized groups or sensitive topics are involved.