On Inductive Biases for Heterogeneous Treatment Effect Estimation

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 34 pre-proceedings (NeurIPS 2021)

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Authors

Alicia Curth, Mihaela van der Schaar

Abstract

We investigate how to exploit structural similarities of an individual's potential outcomes (POs) under different treatments to obtain better estimates of conditional average treatment effects in finite samples. Especially when it is unknown whether a treatment has an effect at all, it is natural to hypothesize that the POs are similar -- yet, some existing strategies for treatment effect estimation employ regularization schemes that implicitly encourage heterogeneity even when it does not exist and fail to fully make use of shared structure. In this paper, we investigate and compare three end-to-end learning strategies to overcome this problem -- based on regularization, reparametrization and a flexible multi-task architecture -- each encoding inductive bias favoring shared behavior across POs. To build understanding of their relative strengths, we implement all strategies using neural networks and conduct a wide range of semi-synthetic experiments. We observe that all three approaches can lead to substantial improvements upon numerous baselines and gain insight into performance differences across various experimental settings.