Interpolation and Regularization for Causal Learning

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 35 (NeurIPS 2022) Main Conference Track

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Leena Chennuru Vankadara, Luca Rendsburg, Ulrike Luxburg, Debarghya Ghoshdastidar


Recent work shows that in complex model classes, interpolators can achieve statistical generalization and even be optimal for statistical learning. However, despite increasing interest in learning models with good causal properties, there is no understanding of whether such interpolators can also achieve causal generalization. To address this gap, we study causal learning from observational data through the lens of interpolation and its counterpart---regularization. Under a simple linear causal model, we derive precise asymptotics for the causal risk of the min-norm interpolator and ridge regressors in the high-dimensional regime. We find a large range of behavior that can be precisely characterized by a new measure of confounding strength. When confounding strength is positive, which holds under independent causal mechanisms---a standard assumption in causal learning---we find that interpolators cannot be optimal. Indeed, causal learning requires stronger regularization than statistical learning. Beyond this assumption, when confounding is negative, we observe a phenomenon of self-induced regularization due to positive alignment between statistical and causal signals. Here, causal learning requires weaker regularization than statistical learning, interpolators can be optimal, and optimal regularization can even be negative.