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Guiding Large Language Models via Directional Stimulus Prompting

Zekun Li · Baolin Peng · Pengcheng He · Michel Galley · Jianfeng Gao · Xifeng Yan

Great Hall & Hall B1+B2 (level 1) #407


We introduce Directional Stimulus Prompting, a novel framework for guiding black-box large language models (LLMs) towards specific desired outputs. Instead of directly adjusting LLMs, our method employs a small tunable policy model (e.g., T5) to generate an auxiliary directional stimulus prompt for each input instance. These directional stimulus prompts act as nuanced, instance-specific hints and clues to guide LLMs in generating desired outcomes, such as including specific keywords in the generated summary. Our approach sidesteps the challenges of direct LLM tuning by optimizing the policy model to explore directional stimulus prompts that align LLMs with desired behaviors. The policy model can be optimized through 1) supervised fine-tuning using labeled data and 2) reinforcement learning from offline or online rewards based on the LLM's output. We evaluate our method across various tasks, including summarization, dialogue response generation, and chain-of-thought reasoning. Our experiments indicate a consistent improvement in the performance of LLMs such as ChatGPT, Codex, and InstructGPT on these supervised tasks with minimal labeled data. Remarkably, by utilizing merely 80 dialogues from the MultiWOZ dataset, our approach boosts ChatGPT's performance by a relative 41.4%, achieving or exceeding the performance of some fully supervised state-of-the-art models. Moreover, the instance-specific chain-of-thought prompt generated through our method enhances InstructGPT's reasoning accuracy, outperforming both generalized human-crafted prompts and those generated through automatic prompt engineering. The code and data are publicly available at

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