Skip to yearly menu bar Skip to main content


Improving Multi-Task Generalization via Regularizing Spurious Correlation

Ziniu Hu · Zhe Zhao · Xinyang Yi · Tiansheng Yao · Lichan Hong · Yizhou Sun · Ed Chi

Hall J (level 1) #211

Keywords: [ Multi-task Learning ] [ spurious correlation ] [ multi-task generalization ] [ out-of-distribution generalization ]


Multi-Task Learning (MTL) is a powerful learning paradigm to improve generalization performance via knowledge sharing. However, existing studies find that MTL could sometimes hurt generalization, especially when two tasks are less correlated. One possible reason that hurts generalization is spurious correlation, i.e., some knowledge is spurious and not causally related to task labels, but the model could mistakenly utilize them and thus fail when such correlation changes. In MTL setup, there exist several unique challenges of spurious correlation. First, the risk of having non-causal knowledge is higher, as the shared MTL model needs to encode all knowledge from different tasks, and causal knowledge for one task could be potentially spurious to the other. Second, the confounder between task labels brings in a different type of spurious correlation to MTL. Given such label-label confounders, we theoretically and empirically show that MTL is prone to taking non-causal knowledge from other tasks. To solve this problem, we propose Multi-Task Causal Representation Learning (MT-CRL) framework. MT-CRL aims to represent multi-task knowledge via disentangled neural modules, and learn which module is causally related to each task via MTL-specific invariant regularization. Experiments show that MT-CRL could enhance MTL model's performance by 5.5% on average over Multi-MNIST, MovieLens, Taskonomy, CityScape, and NYUv2, and show it could indeed alleviate spurious correlation problem.

Chat is not available.