Exploring Transformer Backbones for Heterogeneous Treatment Effect Estimation

Previous works on Treatment Effect Estimation (TEE) are not in widespread use because they are predominantly theoretical, where strong parametric assumptions are made but untractable for practical application. Recent work uses multilayer perceptron (MLP) for modeling casual relationships, however, MLPs lag far behind recent advances in ML methodology, which limits their applicability and generalizability. To extend beyond the single domain formulation and towards more realistic learning scenarios, we explore model design spaces beyond MLPs, i.e., transformer backbones, which provide flexibility where attention layers govern interactions among treatments and covariates to exploit structural similarities of potential outcomes for confounding control. Through careful model design, Transformers as Treatment Effect Estimators (TransTEE) is proposed. We show empirically that TransTEE can: (1) serve as a general purpose treatment effect estimator that significantly outperforms competitive baselines in a variety of challenging TEE problems (e.g., discrete, continuous, structured, or dosage-associated treatments) and is applicable to both when covariates are tabular and when they consist of structural data (e.g., texts, graphs); (2) yield multiple advantages: compatibility with propensity score modeling, parameter efficiency, robustness to continuous treatment value distribution shifts, explainable in covariate adjustment, and real-world utility in auditing pre-trained language models

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