Do Prompt-Based Models Really Understand the Meaning of their Prompts?

NAACL 2022  ·  Albert Webson, Ellie Pavlick ·

Recently, a boom of papers has shown extraordinary progress in zero-shot and few-shot learning with various prompt-based models. It is commonly argued that prompts help models to learn faster in the same way that humans learn faster when provided with task instructions expressed in natural language. In this study, we experiment with over 30 prompt templates manually written for natural language inference (NLI). We find that models learn just as fast with many prompts that are intentionally irrelevant or even pathologically misleading as they do with instructively "good" prompts. Further, such patterns hold even for models as large as 175 billion parameters (Brown et al., 2020) as well as the recently proposed instruction-tuned models which are trained on hundreds of prompts (Sanh et al., 2022). That is, instruction-tuned models often produce good predictions with irrelevant and misleading prompts even at zero shots. In sum, notwithstanding prompt-based models' impressive improvement, we find evidence of serious limitations that question the degree to which such improvement is derived from models understanding task instructions in ways analogous to humans' use of task instructions.

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