HiddenCut: Simple Data Augmentation for Natural Language Understanding with Better Generalization

Fine-tuning large pre-trained models with task-specific data has achieved great success in NLP. However, it has been demonstrated that the majority of information within the self-attention networks is redundant and not utilized effectively during the fine-tuning stage. This leads to inferior results when generalizing the obtained models to out-of-domain distributions. To this end, we propose a simple yet effective data augmentation technique, HiddenCut, to better regularize the model and encourage it to learn more generalizable features. Specifically, contiguous spans within the hidden space are dynamically and strategically dropped during training. Experiments show that our HiddenCut method outperforms the state-of-the-art augmentation methods on the GLUE benchmark, and consistently exhibits superior generalization performances on out-of-distribution and challenging counterexamples. We have publicly released our code at https://github.com/GT-SALT/HiddenCut.


page 1

page 2

page 3

page 4


Safe Augmentation: Learning Task-Specific Transformations from Data

Data augmentation is widely used as a part of the training process appli...

PromptDA: Label-guided Data Augmentation for Prompt-based Few Shot Learners

Recent advances on large pre-trained language models (PLMs) lead impress...

Supervised Contrastive Learning for Pre-trained Language Model Fine-tuning

State-of-the-art natural language understanding classification models fo...

A Simple but Tough-to-Beat Data Augmentation Approach for Natural Language Understanding and Generation

Adversarial training has been shown effective at endowing the learned re...

Pythia v0.1: the Winning Entry to the VQA Challenge 2018

This document describes Pythia v0.1, the winning entry from Facebook AI ...

Enhanced Performance of Pre-Trained Networks by Matched Augmentation Distributions

There exists a distribution discrepancy between training and testing, in...

MAGNeto: An Efficient Deep Learning Method for the Extractive Tags Summarization Problem

In this work, we study a new image annotation task named Extractive Tags...

1 Introduction

Fine-tuning large-scale pre-trained language models (PLMs) has become a dominant paradigm in the natural language processing community, achieving state-of-the-art performances in a wide range of natural language processing tasks

Devlin et al. (2019); Liu et al. (2019); Yang et al. (2019); Joshi et al. (2019); Sun et al. (2019); Clark et al. (2019); Lewis et al. (2020); Bao et al. (2020); He et al. (2020); Raffel et al. (2020). Despite the great success, due to the huge gap between the number of model parameters and that of task-specific data available, the majority of the information within the multi-layer self-attention networks is typically redundant and ineffectively utilized for downstream tasks Guo et al. (2020); Gordon et al. (2020); Dalvi et al. (2020). As a result, after task-specific fine-tuning, models are very likely to overfit and make predictions based on spurious patterns Tu et al. (2020); Kaushik et al. (2020), making them less generalizable to out-of-domain distributions Zhu et al. (2019); Jiang et al. (2019); Aghajanyan et al. (2020).

In order to improve the generalization abilities of over-parameterized models with limited amount of task-specific data, various regularization approaches have been proposed, such as adversarial training that injects label-preserving perturbations in the input space Zhu et al. (2019); Liu et al. (2020); Jiang et al. (2019), generating augmented data via carefully-designed rules McCoy et al. (2019); Xie et al. (2020); Andreas (2020); Shen et al. (2020), and annotating counterfactual examples Goyal et al. (2019); Kaushik et al. (2020). Despite substantial improvements, these methods often require significant computational and memory overhead Zhu et al. (2019); Liu et al. (2020); Jiang et al. (2019); Xie et al. (2020) or human annotations Goyal et al. (2019); Kaushik et al. (2020).

In this work, to alleviate the above issues, we rethink the simple and commonly-used regularization technique—dropout Srivastava et al. (2014)—in pre-trained transformer models Vaswani et al. (2017). With multiple self-attention heads in transformers, dropout converts some hidden units to zeros in a random and independent manner. Although PLMs have already been equipped with the dropout regularization, they still suffer from inferior performances when it comes to out-of-distribution cases Tu et al. (2020); Kaushik et al. (2020). The underlying reasons are two-fold: (1) the linguistic relations among words in a sentence is ignored while dropping the hidden units randomly. In reality, these masked features could be easily inferred from surrounding unmasked hidden units with the self-attention networks. Therefore, redundant information still exists and gets passed to the upper layers. (2) The standard dropout assumes that every hidden unit is equally important with the random sampling procedure, failing to characterize the different roles these features play in distinct tasks. As a result, the learned representations are not generalized enough while applied to other data and tasks. To drop the information more effectively, Shen et al. (2020) recently introduce Cutoff to remove tokens/features/spans in the input space. Even though models will not see the removed information during training, examples with large noise may be generated when key clues for predictions are completely removed from the input.

To overcome these limitations, we propose a simple yet effective data augmentation method, HiddenCut, to regularize PLMs during the fine-tuning stage. Specifically, the approach is based on the linguistic

intuition that hidden representations of adjacent words are more likely to contain similar and redundant information. HiddenCut drops hidden units more structurally by masking the whole hidden information of

contiguous spans of tokens after every encoding layer. This would encourage models to fully utilize all the task-related information, instead of learning spurious patterns during training. To make the dropping process more efficient, we dynamically and strategically select the informative spans to drop by introducing an attention-based mechanism. By performing HiddenCut in the hidden space, the impact of dropped information is only mitigated rather than completely removed, avoiding injecting too much noise to the input. We further apply a Jensen-Shannon Divergence consistency regularization between the original and these augmented examples to model the consistent relations between them.

To demonstrate the effectiveness of our methods, we conduct experiments to compare our HiddenCut with previous state-of-the-art data augmentation method on 8 natural language understanding tasks from the GLUE Wang et al. (2018) benchmark for in-distribution evaluations, and 5 challenging datasets that cover single-sentence tasks, similarity and paraphrase tasks and inference tasks for out-of-distribution evaluations. We further perform ablation studies to investigate the impact of different selecting strategies on HiddenCut’s effectiveness. Results show that our method consistently outperforms baselines, especially on out-of-distribution and challenging counterexamples. To sum up, our contributions are:

  • We propose a simple data augmentation method, HiddenCut, to regularize PLMs during fine-tuning by cutting contiguous spans of representations in the hidden space.

  • We explore and design different strategic sampling techniques to dynamically and adaptively construct the set of spans to be cut.

  • We demonstrate the effectiveness of HiddenCut through extensive experiments on both in-distribution and out-of-distribution datasets.

2 Related Work

2.1 Adversarial Training

Adversarial training methods usually regularize models through applying perturbations to the input or hidden space Szegedy et al. (2013); Goodfellow et al. (2014); Madry et al. (2017) with additional forward-backward passes, which influence the model’s predictions and confidence without changing human judgements. Adversarial-based approaches have been actively applied to various NLP tasks in order to improve models’ robustness and generalization abilities, such as sentence classification Miyato et al. (2017), machine reading comprehension (MRC) Wang and Bansal (2018) and natural language inference (NLI) tasks Nie et al. (2020). Despite its success, adversarial training often requires extensive computation overhead to calculate the perturbation directions Shafahi et al. (2019); Zhang et al. (2019). In contrast, our HiddenCut adds perturbations in the hidden space in a more efficient way that does not require extra computations as the designed perturbations can be directly derived from self-attentions.

2.2 Data Augmentation

Another line of work to improve the model robustness is to directly design data augmentation methods to enrich the original training set such as creating syntactically-rich examples McCoy et al. (2019); Min et al. (2020) with specific rules, crowdsourcing counterfactual augmentation to avoid learning spurious features Goyal et al. (2019); Kaushik et al. (2020), or combining examples in the dataset to increase compositional generalizabilities Jia and Liang (2016); Andreas (2020); Chen et al. (2020, 2020a). However, they either require careful design McCoy et al. (2019); Andreas (2020) to infer labels for generated data or extensive human annotations Goyal et al. (2019); Kaushik et al. (2020), which makes them hard to generalize to different tasks/datasets. Recently Shen et al. (2020) introduce a set of cutoff augmentation which directly creates partial views to augment the training in a more task-agnostic way. Inspired by these prior work, our HiddenCut aims at improving models’ generalization abilities to out-of-distribution via linguistic-informed strategically dropping spans of hidden information in transformers.

2.3 Dropout-based Regularization

Variations of dropout Srivastava et al. (2014)

have been proposed to regularize neural models by injecting noise through dropping certain information so that models do not overfit training data. However, the major efforts have been put to convolutional neural networks and trimmed for structures in images recently such as DropPath

Larsson et al. (2017), DropBlock Ghiasi et al. (2018), DropCluster Chen et al. (2020b) and AutoDropout Pham and Le (2021). In contrast, our work takes a closer look at transformer-based models and introduces HiddenCut for natural language understanding tasks. HiddenCut is closely related to DropBlock Ghiasi et al. (2018), which drops contiguous regions from a feature map. However, different from images, hidden dimensions in PLMs that contain syntactic/semantic information for NLP tasks are more closely related (e.g., NER and POS information), and simply dropping spans of features in certain hidden dimensions might still lead to information redundancy.

Figure 1: Illustration of the differences between Dropout (a) and HiddenCut (b), and the position of HiddenCut in transformer layers (c). A sentence in the hidden space can be viewed as a matrix where is the length of the sentence and is the number of hidden dimensions. The cells in blue represent that they are masked. Dropout masks random independent units in the matrix while our HiddenCut selects and masks a whole span of hidden representations based on attention weights received in the current layer. In our experiments, we perform HiddenCut after the feed-forward network in every transformer layer.

3 HiddenCut Approach

To regularize transformer models in a more structural and efficient manner, in this section, we introduce a simple yet effective data augmentation technique, HiddenCut, that reforms dropout to cutting contiguous spans of hidden representations after each transformer layer (Section 3.1). Intuitively, the proposed approach encourages the models to fully utilize all the hidden information within the self-attention networks. Furthermore, we propose an attention-based mechanism to strategically and judiciously determine the specific spans to cut (Section 3.2). The schematic diagram of HiddenCut, applied to the transformer architecture (and its comparison to dropout) are shown in Figure 1.

3.1 HiddenCut

For an input sequence with tokens associated with a label , we employ a pre-trained transformer model with layers like RoBERTa Liu et al. (2019) to encode the text into hidden representations. Thereafter, an inference network is learned on top of the pre-trained models to predict the corresponding labels. In the hidden space, after layer , every word in the input sequence is encoded into a

dimensional vector

and the whole sequence could be viewed as a hidden matrix .

With multiple self-attention heads in the transformer layers, it is found that there is extensive redundant information across that are linguistically related Dalvi et al. (2020) (e.g., words that share similar semantic meanings). As a result, the removed information from the standard dropout operation may be easily inferred from the remaining unmasked hidden units. The resulting model might easily overfit to certain high-frequency features without utilizing all the important task-related information in the hidden space (especially when task-related data is limited). Moreover, the model also suffers from poor generalization ability while being applied to out-of-distribution cases.

Inspired by Ghiasi et al. (2018); Shen et al. (2020), we propose to improve the dropout regularization in transformer models by creating augmented training examples through HiddenCut, which drops a contiguous span of hidden information encoded in every layer, as shown in Figure 1 (c). Mathematically, in every layer , a span of hidden vectors, , with length in the hidden matrix are converted to 0, and the corresponding attention masks are adjusted to 0, where is a pre-defined hyper-parameter indicating the dropping extent of HiddenCut. After being encoded and hiddencut through all the hidden layers in pre-trained encoders, augmented training data is created for learning the inference network to predict task labels.

3.2 Strategic Sampling

Different tasks rely on learning distinct sets of information from the input to predict the corresponding task labels. Performing HiddenCut randomly might be inefficient especially when most of the dropping happens at task-unrelated spans, which fails to effectively regularize model to take advantage of all the task-related features. To this end, we propose to select the spans to be cut dynamically and strategically in every layer. In other words, we mask the most informative span of hidden representations in one layer to force models to discover other useful clues to make predictions instead of relying on a small set of spurious patterns.

Attention-based Sampling Strategy

The most direct way is to define the set of tokens to be cut by utilizing attention weights assigned to tokens in the self-attention layers Kovaleva et al. (2019). Intuitively, we can drop the spans of hidden representations that are assigned high attentions by the transformer layers. As a result, the information redundancy is alleviated and models would be encourage to attend to other important information. Specifically, we first derive the average attention for each token, , from the attention weights matrix after self-attention layers, where is the number of attention heads and is the sequence length:

We then sample the start token for HiddenCut from the set that contains top tokens with higher average attention weights ( is a pre-defined parameter). Then HiddenCut is performed to mask the hidden representations between and . Note that the salient sets are different across different layers and updated throughout the training.

Other Sampling Strategies

We also explore other widely used word importance discovery methods to find a set of tokens to be strategically cut by HiddenCut, including:

  • Random: All spans of tokens are viewed as equally important, thus are randomly cut.

  • LIME Ribeiro et al. (2016)

    defines the importance of tokens by examining the locally faithfulness where weights of tokens are assigned by classifiers trained with sentences whose words are randomly removed. We utilized LIME on top of a SVM classifier to pre-define a fixed set of tokens to be cut.

  • GEM Yang et al. (2019) utilizes orthogonal basis to calculate the novelty scores that measure the new semantic meaning in tokens, significance scores

    that estimate the alignment between the semantic meaning of tokens and the sentence-level meaning, and the

    uniqueness scores that examine the uniqueness of the semantic meaning of tokens. We compute the GEM scores using the hidden representations at every layer to generate the set of tokens to be cut, which are updated during training.

  • Gradient Baehrens et al. (2010): We define the set of tokens to be cut based on the rankings of the absolute values of gradients they received at every layer in the backward-passing. This set would be updated during training.

3.3 Objectives

During training, for an input text sequence with a label , we generate augmented examples through performing HiddenCut in pre-trained encoder . The whole model is then trained though several objectives including general classification loss ( and ) on data-label pairs and consistency regularization () Miyato et al. (2017, 2018); Clark et al. (2018); Xie et al. (2019); Shen et al. (2020) across different augmentations:

where and represent the cross-entropy loss and KL-divergence respectively. stands for the average predictions across the original text and all the augmented examples.

Combining these three losses, our overall objective function is:

where and are the weights used to balance the contributions of learning from the original data and augmented data.

RoBERTa-base 87.6 92.8 91.9 78.7 94.8 89.5 63.6 91.2 86.3
ALUM 88.1 93.1 92.0 80.2 95.3 90.9 63.6 91.1 86.8
Token Cutoff 88.2 93.1 91.9 81.2 95.1 91.1 64.1 91.2 87.0
Feature Cutoff 88.2 93.3 92.0 81.6 95.3 90.7 63.6 91.2 87.0
Span Cutoff 88.4 93.4 92.0 82.3 95.4 91.1 64.7 91.2 87.3
HiddenCut 88.2 93.7 92.0 83.4 95.8 92.0 66.2 91.3 87.8
Table 1: In-distribution evaluation results on the dev sets of the GLUE benchmark. means our proposed method.
Method Single-Sentence Similarity&Paraphrase Inference
RoBERTa-base 84.6 88.4 38.4 67.8 31.2
Span Cutoff 85.5 89.2 38.8 68.4 31.1
HiddenCut 87.8 90.4 41.5 71.2 32.8
Table 2: Out-of-distribution evaluation results on 5 different challenging sets. means our proposed method. For all the datasets, we did not use their training sets to further fine-tune the derived models from GLUE.

4 Experiments

4.1 Datasets

We conducted experiments on both in-distribution datasets and out-of-distribution datasets to demonstrate the effectiveness of our proposed HiddenCut.

In-Distribution Datasets

We mainly trained and evaluated our methods on the widely-used GLUE benchmark Wang et al. (2018) which covers a wide range of natural language understanding tasks: single-sentence tasks including: (i) Stanford Sentiment Treebank (SST-2) which predict the sentiment of movie reviews to be positive or negative, and (ii) Corpus of Linguistic Acceptability (CoLA) which predict whether a sentence is linguistically acceptable or not; similarity and paraphrase tasks

including (i) Quora Question Pairs (QQP) which predict whether two question are paraphrases, (ii) Semantic Textual Similarity Benchmark (STS-B) which predict the similarity ratings between two sentences, and (iii) Microsoft Research Paraphrase Corpus (MRPC) which predict whether two given sentences are semantically equivalent;

inference tasks

including (i) Multi-Genre Natural Language Inference (MNLI) which classified the relationships between two sentences into entailment, contradiction, or neutral, (ii) Question Natural Language Inference (QNLI) which predict whether a given sentence is the correct answer to a given question, and (iii) Recognizing Textual Entailment (RTE) which predict whether the entailment relation holds between two sentences. Accuracy was used as the evaluation metric for most of the datasets except that Matthews correlation was used for CoLA and Spearman correlation was utilized for STS-B.

Out-Of-Distribution Datasets

To demonstrate the generalization abilities of our proposed methods, we directly evaluated on 5 different out-of-distribution challenging sets, using the models that are fine-tuned on GLUE benchmark datasets:

  • Single Sentence Tasks: Models fine-tuned from SST-2 are directly evaluated on two recent challenging sentiment classification datasets: IMDB Contrast Set Gardner et al. (2020) including 588 examples and IMDB Counterfactually Augmented Dataset Kaushik et al. (2020) including 733 examples. Both of them were constructed by asking NLP researchers Gardner et al. (2020) or Amazon Mechanical Turkers Kaushik et al. (2020) to make minor edits to examples in the original IMDB dataset Maas et al. (2011) so that the sentiment labels change while the major contents keep the same.

  • Similarity and Paraphrase Tasks: Models fine-tuned from QQP are directly evaluated on the recently introduced challenging paraphrase dataset PAWS-QQP Zhang et al. (2019) that has 669 test cases. PAWS-QQP contains sentence pairs with high word overlap but different semantic meanings created via word-swapping and back-translation from the original QQP dataset.

  • Inference Tasks: Models fine-tuned from MNLI are directly evaluated on two challenging NLI sets: HANS McCoy et al. (2019) with 30,000 test cases and Adversarial NLI (A1 dev sets) Nie et al. (2020) including 1,000 test cases. The former one was constructed by using syntactic rules (lexical overlap, subsequence and constituent) to generate non-entailment examples with high premise-hypothesis overlap from MNLI. The latter one was created by adversarial human-and-model-in-the-loop framework Nie et al. (2020) to create hard examples based on BERT-Large modelsDevlin et al. (2019)

    pre-trained on SNLI

    Bowman et al. (2015) and MNLI.

4.2 Baselines

We compare our methods with several baselines:

  • RoBERTa Liu et al. (2019) is used as our base model. Note that RoBERTa is regularized with dropout during fine-tuning.

  • ALUM Liu et al. (2020) is the state-of-the-art adversarial training method for neural language models, which regularizes fine-tuning via perturbations in the embedding space.

  • Cutoff Shen et al. (2020) is a recent data augmentation for natural language understanding tasks by removing information in the input space, including three variations: token cutoff, feature cutoff, and span cutoff.

4.3 Implementation Details

We used the RoBERTa-base model Liu et al. (2019) to initialize all the methods. Note that HiddenCut is agnostic to different types of pre-trained models. We followed Liu et al. (2019) to set the linear decay scheduler with a warmup ratio of 0.06 for training. The maximum learning rate was selected from

and the max number of training epochs was set to be either

or . All these hyper-parameters are shared for all the models. The HiddenCut ratio was set 0.1 after a grid search from . The selecting ratio in the important sets sampling process was set 0.4 after a grid search from . The weights and in our objective function were both 1. All the experiments were performed using a GeForce RTX 2080Ti.

4.4 Results on In-Distribution Datasets

Based on Table 1, we observed that, compared to RoBERTa-base with only dropout regularization, ALUM with perturbations in the embedding space through adversarial training has better results on most of these GLUE tasks. However, the extra additional backward passes to determine the perturbation directions in ALUM can bring in significantly more computational and memory overhead. By masking different types of input during training, Cutoff increased the performances while being more computationally efficient.

In contrast to Span Cutoff, HiddenCut not only introduced zero additional computation cost, but also demonstrated stronger performances on 7 out of 8 GLUE tasks, especially when the size of training set is small (e.g., an increase of on RTE and on CoLA). Moreover, HiddenCut achieved the best average result compared to previous state-of-the-art baselines. These in-distribution improvements indicated that, by strategically dropping contiguous spans in the hidden space, HiddenCut not only helps pre-trained models utilize hidden information in a more effective way, but also injects less noise during the augmentation process compared to cutoff, e.g., Span Cutoff might bring in additional noises for CoLA (which aims to judge whether input sentences being linguistically acceptable or not) when one span in the input is removed, since it might change the labels.

4.5 Results on Out-Of-Distribution Datasets

To validate the better generalizability of HiddenCut, we tested our models trained on SST-2, QQP and MNLI directly on 5 out-of-distribution/out-of-domain challenging sets in zero-shot settings. As mentioned earlier, these out-of-distribution sets were either constructed with in-domain/out-of-domain data and further edited by human to make them harder, or generated by rules that exploited spurious correlations such as lexical overlap, which made them challenging to most existing models.

As shown in Table 2, Span Cutoff slightly improved the performances compared to RoBERTa by adding extra regularizations through creating restricted input. HiddenCut significantly outperformed both RoBERTa and Span Cutoff. For example, it outperformed Span Cutoff. by 2.3%(87.8% vs. 85.5%) on IMDB-Conts, 2.7%(41.5% vs. 38.8%) on PAWS-QQP, and 2.8%(71.2% vs 68.4%) on HANS consistently. These superior results demonstrated that, by dynamically and strategically dropping contiguous span of hidden representations, HiddenCut was able to better utilize all the important task-related information which improved the model generalization to out-of-distribution and challenging adversary examples.

Strategy SST-2 QNLI
RoBERTa 94.8 92.8
DropBlock 95.4 93.2
Random 95.4 93.5
LIME 95.2 93.1
LIME-R 95.3 93.2
GEM 95.5 93.4
GEM-R 95.1 93.2
Gradient 95.6 93.6
Gradient-R 95.1 93.4
Attention 95.8 93.7
Attention-R 94.6 93.4
Table 3: The performances on SST-2 and QNLI with different strategies when dropping information in the hidden space. Different sampling strategies combined with HiddenCut are presented. “-R” means sampling outside the set to be cut given by these strategies.
Method Original and Counterfactual Sentences Prediction
RoBERTa <s> I would rate 8 stars out of 10 </s> Positive
HiddenCut <s> I would rate 8 stars out of 10 </s> Positive
RoBERTa <s> The movie became more and more intriguing </s> Positive
HiddenCut <s> The movie became more and more intriguing </s> Positive
RoBERTa <s> I would rate 8 stars out of 20 </s> Positive
HiddenCut <s> I would rate 8 stars out of 20 </s> Negative
RoBERTa <s> The movie became only slightly more intriguing </s> Positive
HiddenCut <s> The movie became only slightly more intriguing </s> Negative
Table 4: Visualization of the attention weights at the last layer in models. The sentences in the first section are from IMDB with positive labels and the sentences in the second section is constructed by changing ratings or diminishing via qualifiers Kaushik et al. (2020) to flip their corresponding labels. Deeper blue represents that those tokens receive higher attention weights.

4.6 Ablation Studies

This section presents our ablation studies on different sampling strategies and the effect of important hyper-parameters in HiddenCut.

4.6.1 Sampling Strategies in HiddenCut

We compared different ways to cut hidden representations (DropBlock Ghiasi et al. (2018) which randomly dropped spans in certain random hidden dimensions instead of the whole hidden space) and different sampling strategies for HiddenCut described in Section 3.2 (including Random, LIME Ribeiro et al. (2016), GEM Yang et al. (2019), Gradient Yeh et al. (2019), Attention) based on the performances on SST-2 and QNLI. For these strategies, we also experimented with a reverse set denoted by “-R” where we sampled outside the important set given by above strategies.

From Table 3

, we observed that (i) sampling from important sets resulted in better performances than random sampling. Sampling outside the defined importance sets usually led to inferior performances. These highlights the importance of strategically selecting spans to drop. (ii) Sampling from dynamic sets sampled by their probabilities often outperformed sampling from predefined fixed sets (

LIME), indicating the effectiveness of dynamically adjusting the sampling sets during training. (iii) The attention-based strategy outperformed all other sampling strategies, demonstrating the effectiveness of our proposed sampling strategies for HiddenCut. (iv) Completely dropping out the spans of hidden representations generated better results than only removing certain dimensions in the hidden space, which further validated the benefit of HiddenCut over DropBlock in natural language understanding tasks.

0.05 0.1 0.2 0.3 0.4
MNLI 88.07 88.23 88.13 88.07 87.64
Table 5: Performances on MNLI with different HiddenCut ratio , which controls the length of span to cut in the hidden space.

4.6.2 The Effect of HiddenCut Ratios

The length of spans that are dropped by HiddenCut is an important hyper-parameter, which is controlled by the HiddenCut ratio and the length of input sentences. could also be interpreted as the extent of perturbations added to the hidden space. We presented the results of HiddenCut on MNLI with a set of different including in Table 5. HiddenCut achieved the best performance with , and the performance gradually decreased with higher since larger noise might be introduced when dropping more hidden information. This suggested the importance of balancing the trade-off between applying proper perturbations to regularize models and injecting potential noises.

4.6.3 The Effect of Sampling Ratios

The number of words that are considered important and selected by HiddenCut is also an influential hyper-parameter controlled by the sampling ratio and the length of input sentences. As shown in Table 6, we compared the performances on SST-2 by adopting different including . When is too small, the number of words in the important sets is limited, which might lead HiddenCut to consistently drop certain hidden spans during the entire training process. The low diversities reduce the improvements over baselines. When is too large, the important sets might cover all the words except stop words in sentences. As a result, the Attention-based Strategy actually became Random Sampling, which led to lower gains over baselines. The best performance was achieved when , indicating a reasonable trade-off between diversities and efficiencies.

0.1 0.2 0.4 0.6
SST-2 95.18 95.30 95.76 95.46
Table 6: Performances on SST-2 with different sampling ratio , which controls the size of important token set from which HiddenCut would sample.

4.7 Visualization of Attentions

To further demonstrate the effectiveness of HiddenCut, we visualize the attention weights that the special start token (“<s>”) assigns to other tokens at the last layer, via several examples and their counterfactual examples in Table 4. We observed that RoBERTa only assigned higher attention weights on certain tokens such as “8 stars”, “intriguing” and especially the end special token “</s>”, while largely ignored other context tokens that were also important to make the correct predictions such as scale descriptions (e.g., “out of 10”) and qualifier words (e.g., “more and more”). This was probably because words like “8 stars” and “intriguing” were highly correlated with positive label and RoBERTa might overfit such patterns without probable regularization. As a result, when the scale of ratings (e.g., from “10” to “20”) or the qualifier words changed (e.g., from “more and more” to “only slightly more”), RoBERTa still predicted the label as positive even when the groundtruth is negative. With HiddenCut, models mitigated the impact of tokens with higher attention weights and were encouraged to utilize all the related information. So the attention weights in HiddenCut

were more uniformly distributed, which helped models make the correct predictions for out-of-distribution counterfactual examples. Taken together,

HiddenCut helps improve model’s generalizability by facilitating it to learn from more task-related information.

5 Conclusion

In this work, we introduced a simple yet effective data augmentation technique, HiddenCut, to improve model robustness on a wide range of natural language understanding tasks by dropping contiguous spans of hidden representations in the hidden space directed by strategic attention-based sampling strategies. Through HiddenCut, transformer models are encouraged to make use of all the task-related information during training rather than only relying on certain spurious clues. Through extensive experiments on in-distribution datasets (GLUE benchmarks) and out-of-distribution datasets (challenging counterexamples), HiddenCut consistently and significantly outperformed state-of-the-art baselines, and demonstrated superior generalization performances.


We would like to thank the anonymous reviewers, and the members of Georgia Tech SALT group for their feedback. This work is supported in part by grants from Amazon and Salesforce.


  • A. Aghajanyan, A. Shrivastava, A. Gupta, N. Goyal, L. Zettlemoyer, and S. Gupta (2020) Better fine-tuning by reducing representational collapse. arXiv preprint arXiv:2008.03156. Cited by: §1.
  • J. Andreas (2020) Good-enough compositional data augmentation. In Proceedings of the 58th Annual Meeting of the Association for Computational Linguistics, Online, pp. 7556–7566. External Links: Link, Document Cited by: §1, §2.2.
  • D. Baehrens, T. Schroeter, S. Harmeling, M. Kawanabe, K. Hansen, and K. Müller (2010) How to explain individual classification decisions.

    Journal of Machine Learning Research

    11 (61), pp. 1803–1831.
    External Links: Link Cited by: 4th item.
  • H. Bao, L. Dong, F. Wei, W. Wang, N. Yang, X. Liu, Y. Wang, S. Piao, J. Gao, M. Zhou, et al. (2020) UniLMv2: pseudo-masked language models for unified language model pre-training. arXiv preprint arXiv:2002.12804. Cited by: §1.
  • S. R. Bowman, G. Angeli, C. Potts, and C. D. Manning (2015) A large annotated corpus for learning natural language inference. In Proceedings of the 2015 Conference on Empirical Methods in Natural Language Processing, Lisbon, Portugal, pp. 632–642. External Links: Link, Document Cited by: 3rd item.
  • J. Chen, Z. Wang, R. Tian, Z. Yang, and D. Yang (2020a) Local additivity based data augmentation for semi-supervised ner. In Proceedings of the 2020 Conference on Empirical Methods in Natural Language Processing (EMNLP), pp. 1241–1251. Cited by: §2.2.
  • J. Chen, Z. Yang, and D. Yang (2020)

    MixText: linguistically-informed interpolation of hidden space for semi-supervised text classification

    In Proceedings of the 58th Annual Meeting of the Association for Computational Linguistics, Online, pp. 2147–2157. External Links: Link, Document Cited by: §2.2.
  • L. Chen, P. Gautier, and S. Aydöre (2020b) DropCluster: a structured dropout for convolutional networks. ArXiv abs/2002.02997. Cited by: §2.3.
  • K. Clark, M. Luong, Q. V. Le, and C. D. Manning (2019) ELECTRA: pre-training text encoders as discriminators rather than generators. In International Conference on Learning Representations, Cited by: §1.
  • K. Clark, M. Luong, C. D. Manning, and Q. V. Le (2018) Semi-supervised sequence modeling with cross-view training. In EMNLP, Cited by: §3.3.
  • F. Dalvi, H. Sajjad, N. Durrani, and Y. Belinkov (2020) Analyzing redundancy in pretrained transformer models. In Proceedings of the 2020 Conference on Empirical Methods in Natural Language Processing (EMNLP), Online, pp. 4908–4926. External Links: Link, Document Cited by: §1, §3.1.
  • J. Devlin, M. Chang, K. Lee, and K. Toutanova (2019) BERT: pre-training of deep bidirectional transformers for language understanding. In NAACL-HLT, Cited by: §1, 3rd item.
  • M. Gardner, Y. Artzi, V. Basmov, J. Berant, B. Bogin, S. Chen, P. Dasigi, D. Dua, Y. Elazar, A. Gottumukkala, N. Gupta, H. Hajishirzi, G. Ilharco, D. Khashabi, K. Lin, J. Liu, N. F. Liu, P. Mulcaire, Q. Ning, S. Singh, N. A. Smith, S. Subramanian, R. Tsarfaty, E. Wallace, A. Zhang, and B. Zhou (2020) Evaluating models’ local decision boundaries via contrast sets. In Findings of the Association for Computational Linguistics: EMNLP 2020, Online, pp. 1307–1323. External Links: Link, Document Cited by: 1st item.
  • G. Ghiasi, T. Lin, and Q. V. Le (2018) DropBlock: a regularization method for convolutional networks. In NeurIPS, Cited by: §2.3, §3.1, §4.6.1.
  • I. J. Goodfellow, J. Shlens, and C. Szegedy (2014) Explaining and harnessing adversarial examples. arXiv preprint arXiv:1412.6572. Cited by: §2.1.
  • M. Gordon, K. Duh, and N. Andrews (2020)

    Compressing BERT: studying the effects of weight pruning on transfer learning

    In Proceedings of the 5th Workshop on Representation Learning for NLP, Online, pp. 143–155. External Links: Link, Document Cited by: §1.
  • Y. Goyal, Z. Wu, J. Ernst, D. Batra, D. Parikh, and S. Lee (2019) Counterfactual visual explanations. In ICML, pp. 2376–2384. External Links: Link Cited by: §1, §2.2.
  • D. Guo, A. M. Rush, and Y. Kim (2020) Parameter-efficient transfer learning with diff pruning. External Links: 2012.07463 Cited by: §1.
  • P. He, X. Liu, J. Gao, and W. Chen (2020) DeBERTa: decoding-enhanced bert with disentangled attention. arXiv preprint arXiv:2006.03654. Cited by: §1.
  • R. Jia and P. Liang (2016) Data recombination for neural semantic parsing. In Proceedings of the 54th Annual Meeting of the Association for Computational Linguistics (Volume 1: Long Papers), Berlin, Germany, pp. 12–22. External Links: Link, Document Cited by: §2.2.
  • H. Jiang, P. He, W. Chen, X. Liu, J. Gao, and T. Zhao (2019) Smart: robust and efficient fine-tuning for pre-trained natural language models through principled regularized optimization. arXiv preprint arXiv:1911.03437. Cited by: §1, §1.
  • M. Joshi, D. Chen, Y. Liu, D. S. Weld, L. Zettlemoyer, and O. Levy (2019) SpanBERT: improving pre-training by representing and predicting spans. Transactions of the Association for Computational Linguistics 8, pp. 64–77. Cited by: §1.
  • D. Kaushik, E. Hovy, and Z. Lipton (2020) Learning the difference that makes a difference with counterfactually-augmented data. In International Conference on Learning Representations, External Links: Link Cited by: §1, §1, §1, §2.2, 1st item, Table 4.
  • O. Kovaleva, A. Romanov, A. Rogers, and A. Rumshisky (2019) Revealing the dark secrets of BERT. In Proceedings of the 2019 Conference on Empirical Methods in Natural Language Processing and the 9th International Joint Conference on Natural Language Processing (EMNLP-IJCNLP), Hong Kong, China, pp. 4365–4374. External Links: Link, Document Cited by: §3.2.
  • G. Larsson, M. Maire, and G. Shakhnarovich (2017)

    FractalNet: ultra-deep neural networks without residuals

    ArXiv abs/1605.07648. Cited by: §2.3.
  • M. Lewis, Y. Liu, N. Goyal, M. Ghazvininejad, A. Mohamed, O. Levy, V. Stoyanov, and L. Zettlemoyer (2020) Bart: denoising sequence-to-sequence pre-training for natural language generation, translation, and comprehension. SCL. Cited by: §1.
  • X. Liu, H. Cheng, P. He, W. Chen, Y. Wang, H. Poon, and J. Gao (2020) Adversarial training for large neural language models. arXiv preprint arXiv:2004.08994. Cited by: §1, 2nd item.
  • Y. Liu, M. Ott, N. Goyal, J. Du, M. Joshi, D. Chen, O. Levy, M. Lewis, L. Zettlemoyer, and V. Stoyanov (2019) Roberta: a robustly optimized bert pretraining approach. arXiv preprint arXiv:1907.11692. Cited by: §1, §3.1, 1st item, §4.3.
  • A. L. Maas, R. E. Daly, P. T. Pham, D. Huang, A. Y. Ng, and C. Potts (2011)

    Learning word vectors for sentiment analysis

    In Proceedings of the 49th Annual Meeting of the Association for Computational Linguistics: Human Language Technologies, Portland, Oregon, USA, pp. 142–150. External Links: Link Cited by: 1st item.
  • A. Madry, A. Makelov, L. Schmidt, D. Tsipras, and A. Vladu (2017)

    Towards deep learning models resistant to adversarial attacks

    arXiv preprint arXiv:1706.06083. Cited by: §2.1.
  • T. McCoy, E. Pavlick, and T. Linzen (2019)

    Right for the wrong reasons: diagnosing syntactic heuristics in natural language inference

    In Proceedings of the 57th Annual Meeting of the Association for Computational Linguistics, Florence, Italy, pp. 3428–3448. External Links: Link, Document Cited by: §1, §2.2, 3rd item.
  • J. Min, R. T. McCoy, D. Das, E. Pitler, and T. Linzen (2020) Syntactic data augmentation increases robustness to inference heuristics. In Proceedings of the 58th Annual Meeting of the Association for Computational Linguistics, Online, pp. 2339–2352. External Links: Link, Document Cited by: §2.2.
  • T. Miyato, A. M. Dai, and I. J. Goodfellow (2017) Adversarial training methods for semi-supervised text classification. arXiv: Machine Learning. Cited by: §2.1, §3.3.
  • T. Miyato, S. Maeda, M. Koyama, and S. Ishii (2018)

    Virtual adversarial training: a regularization method for supervised and semi-supervised learning

    IEEE transactions on pattern analysis and machine intelligence 41 (8), pp. 1979–1993. Cited by: §3.3.
  • Y. Nie, A. Williams, E. Dinan, M. Bansal, J. Weston, and D. Kiela (2020) Adversarial NLI: a new benchmark for natural language understanding. In Proceedings of the 58th Annual Meeting of the Association for Computational Linguistics, Online, pp. 4885–4901. External Links: Link, Document Cited by: §2.1, 3rd item.
  • H. Pham and Q. V. Le (2021) AutoDropout: learning dropout patterns to regularize deep networks. External Links: 2101.01761 Cited by: §2.3.
  • C. Raffel, N. Shazeer, A. Roberts, K. Lee, S. Narang, M. Matena, Y. Zhou, W. Li, and P. J. Liu (2020) Exploring the limits of transfer learning with a unified text-to-text transformer. External Links: 1910.10683 Cited by: §1.
  • M. T. Ribeiro, S. Singh, and C. Guestrin (2016) "Why should i trust you?": explaining the predictions of any classifier. In Proceedings of the 22nd ACM SIGKDD International Conference on Knowledge Discovery and Data Mining, KDD ’16, New York, NY, USA, pp. 1135–1144. External Links: ISBN 9781450342322, Link, Document Cited by: 2nd item, §4.6.1.
  • A. Shafahi, M. Najibi, M. A. Ghiasi, Z. Xu, J. Dickerson, C. Studer, L. S. Davis, G. Taylor, and T. Goldstein (2019) Adversarial training for free!. In Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems, pp. 3358–3369. Cited by: §2.1.
  • D. Shen, M. Zheng, Y. Shen, Y. Qu, and W. Chen (2020) A simple but tough-to-beat data augmentation approach for natural language understanding and generation. ArXiv abs/2009.13818. Cited by: §1, §1, §2.2, §3.1, §3.3, 3rd item.
  • N. Srivastava, G. Hinton, A. Krizhevsky, I. Sutskever, and R. Salakhutdinov (2014) Dropout: a simple way to prevent neural networks from overfitting. Journal of Machine Learning Research 15 (56), pp. 1929–1958. External Links: Link Cited by: §1, §2.3.
  • Y. Sun, S. Wang, Y. Li, S. Feng, X. Chen, H. Zhang, X. Tian, D. Zhu, H. Tian, and H. Wu (2019) Ernie: enhanced representation through knowledge integration. arXiv preprint arXiv:1904.09223. Cited by: §1.
  • C. Szegedy, W. Zaremba, I. Sutskever, J. Bruna, D. Erhan, I. Goodfellow, and R. Fergus (2013) Intriguing properties of neural networks. arXiv preprint arXiv:1312.6199. Cited by: §2.1.
  • L. Tu, G. Lalwani, S. Gella, and H. He (2020) An empirical study on robustness to spurious correlations using pre-trained language models. Transactions of the Association for Computational Linguistics 8, pp. 621–633. Cited by: §1, §1.
  • A. Vaswani, N. Shazeer, N. Parmar, J. Uszkoreit, L. Jones, A. N. Gomez, L. Kaiser, and I. Polosukhin (2017) Attention is all you need. ArXiv abs/1706.03762. Cited by: §1.
  • A. Wang, A. Singh, J. Michael, F. Hill, O. Levy, and S. R. Bowman (2018) GLUE: a multi-task benchmark and analysis platform for natural language understanding. In BlackboxNLP@EMNLP, Cited by: §1, §4.1.
  • Y. Wang and M. Bansal (2018) Robust machine comprehension models via adversarial training. In Proceedings of the 2018 Conference of the North American Chapter of the Association for Computational Linguistics: Human Language Technologies, Volume 2 (Short Papers), New Orleans, Louisiana, pp. 575–581. External Links: Link, Document Cited by: §2.1.
  • Q. Xie, Z. Dai, E. Hovy, M. Luong, and Q. V. Le (2020) Unsupervised data augmentation for consistency training. External Links: 1904.12848 Cited by: §1.
  • Q. Xie, Z. Dai, E. Hovy, M. Luong, and Q. V. Le (2019) Unsupervised data augmentation for consistency training. arXiv preprint arXiv:1904.12848. Cited by: §3.3.
  • Z. Yang, Z. Dai, Y. Yang, J. Carbonell, R. R. Salakhutdinov, and Q. V. Le (2019) Xlnet: generalized autoregressive pretraining for language understanding. In Advances in neural information processing systems, pp. 5754–5764. Cited by: §1.
  • Z. Yang, C. Zhu, and W. Chen (2019) Parameter-free sentence embedding via orthogonal basis. In Proceedings of the 2019 Conference on Empirical Methods in Natural Language Processing and the 9th International Joint Conference on Natural Language Processing (EMNLP-IJCNLP), Hong Kong, China, pp. 638–648. External Links: Link, Document Cited by: 3rd item, §4.6.1.
  • C. Yeh, C. Hsieh, A. S. Suggala, D. I. Inouye, and P. Ravikumar (2019) On the (in)fidelity and sensitivity of explanations. In NeurIPS, Cited by: §4.6.1.
  • D. Zhang, T. Zhang, Y. Lu, Z. Zhu, and B. Dong (2019) You only propagate once: painless adversarial training using maximal principle. arXiv preprint arXiv:1905.00877 2 (3). Cited by: §2.1.
  • Y. Zhang, J. Baldridge, and L. He (2019) PAWS: paraphrase adversaries from word scrambling. In Proceedings of the 2019 Conference of the North American Chapter of the Association for Computational Linguistics: Human Language Technologies, Volume 1 (Long and Short Papers), Minneapolis, Minnesota, pp. 1298–1308. External Links: Link, Document Cited by: 2nd item.
  • C. Zhu, Y. Cheng, Z. Gan, S. Sun, T. Goldstein, and J. Liu (2019) Freelb: enhanced adversarial training for natural language understanding. In International Conference on Learning Representations, Cited by: §1, §1.