Data Factors for Better Compositional Generalization.


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Recent diagnostic datasets on compositional generalization, such as SCAN (Lake and Baroni, 2018) and COGS (Kim and Linzen, 2020), expose severe problems in models trained from scratch on these datasets. However, in contrast to this poor performance, state-of-the-art models trained on larger and more general datasets show better generalization ability. In this work, to reconcile this inconsistency, we conduct an empirical analysis by training Transformer models on a variety of training sets with different data factors, including dataset scale, pattern complexity, example difficulty, etc. First, we show that increased dataset complexity can lead to better generalization behavior on multiple different generalization challenges. To further understand this improvement, we show two axes of the benefit from more complex datasets: they provide more diverse examples so compositional understanding becomes more effective, and they also prevent ungeneralizable memorization of the examples due to reduced example repetition frequency. Finally, we explore how training examples of different difficulty levels influence generalization differently. On synthetic datasets, simple examples invoke stronger compositionality than hard examples do. On larger-scale real language datasets, while hard examples become more important potentially to ensure decent data coverage, a balanced mixture of simple and hard examples manages to induce the strongest generalizability. The code and data for this work are available at
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