Charles Welch


Mitigating Toxic Degeneration with Empathetic Data: Exploring the Relationship Between Toxicity and Empathy
Allison Lahnala | Charles Welch | Béla Neuendorf | Lucie Flek
Proceedings of the 2022 Conference of the North American Chapter of the Association for Computational Linguistics: Human Language Technologies

Large pre-trained neural language models have supported the effectiveness of many NLP tasks, yet are still prone to generating toxic language hindering the safety of their use. Using empathetic data, we improve over recent work on controllable text generation that aims to reduce the toxicity of generated text. We find we are able to dramatically reduce the size of fine-tuning data to 7.5-30k samples while at the same time making significant improvements over state-of-the-art toxicity mitigation of up to 3.4% absolute reduction (26% relative) from the original work on 2.3m samples, by strategically sampling data based on empathy scores. We observe that the degree of improvements is subject to specific communication components of empathy. In particular, the more cognitive components of empathy significantly beat the original dataset in almost all experiments, while emotional empathy was tied to less improvement and even underperforming random samples of the original data. This is a particularly implicative insight for NLP work concerning empathy as until recently the research and resources built for it have exclusively considered empathy as an emotional concept.

Leveraging Similar Users for Personalized Language Modeling with Limited Data
Charles Welch | Chenxi Gu | Jonathan K. Kummerfeld | Veronica Perez-Rosas | Rada Mihalcea
Proceedings of the 60th Annual Meeting of the Association for Computational Linguistics (Volume 1: Long Papers)

Personalized language models are designed and trained to capture language patterns specific to individual users. This makes them more accurate at predicting what a user will write. However, when a new user joins a platform and not enough text is available, it is harder to build effective personalized language models. We propose a solution for this problem, using a model trained on users that are similar to a new user. In this paper, we explore strategies for finding the similarity between new users and existing ones and methods for using the data from existing users who are a good match. We further explore the trade-off between available data for new users and how well their language can be modeled.

Knowledge Enhanced Reflection Generation for Counseling Dialogues
Siqi Shen | Veronica Perez-Rosas | Charles Welch | Soujanya Poria | Rada Mihalcea
Proceedings of the 60th Annual Meeting of the Association for Computational Linguistics (Volume 1: Long Papers)

In this paper, we study the effect of commonsense and domain knowledge while generating responses in counseling conversations using retrieval and generative methods for knowledge integration. We propose a pipeline that collects domain knowledge through web mining, and show that retrieval from both domain-specific and commonsense knowledge bases improves the quality of generated responses. We also present a model that incorporates knowledge generated by COMET using soft positional encoding and masked self-attention.We show that both retrieved and COMET-generated knowledge improve the system’s performance as measured by automatic metrics and also by human evaluation. Lastly, we present a comparative study on the types of knowledge encoded by our system showing that causal and intentional relationships benefit the generation task more than other types of commonsense relations.

Nearest Neighbor Language Models for Stylistic Controllable Generation
Severino Trotta | Lucie Flek | Charles Welch
Proceedings of the 2nd Workshop on Natural Language Generation, Evaluation, and Metrics (GEM)

Recent language modeling performance has been greatly improved by the use of external memory. This memory encodes the context so that similar contexts can be recalled during decoding. This similarity depends on how the model learns to encode context, which can be altered to include other attributes, such as style. We construct and evaluate an architecture for this purpose, using corpora annotated for politeness, formality, and toxicity. Through extensive experiments and human evaluation we demonstrate the potential of our method to generate text while controlling style. We find that style-specific datastores improve generation performance, though results vary greatly across styles, and the effect of pretraining data and specific styles should be explored in future work.

Understanding Interpersonal Conflict Types and their Impact on Perception Classification
Charles Welch | Joan Plepi | Béla Neuendorf | Lucie Flek
Proceedings of the Fifth Workshop on Natural Language Processing and Computational Social Science (NLP+CSS)

Studies on interpersonal conflict have a long history and contain many suggestions for conflict typology. We use this as the basis of a novel annotation scheme and release a new dataset of situations and conflict aspect annotations. We then build a classifier to predict whether someone will perceive the actions of one individual as right or wrong in a given situation. Our analyses include conflict aspects, but also generated clusters, which are human validated, and show differences in conflict content based on the relationship of participants to the author. Our findings have important implications for understanding conflict and social norms.

A Critical Reflection and Forward Perspective on Empathy and Natural Language Processing
Allison Lahnala | Charles Welch | David Jurgens | Lucie Flek
Findings of the Association for Computational Linguistics: EMNLP 2022

We review the state of research on empathy in natural language processing and identify the following issues: (1) empathy definitions are absent or abstract, which (2) leads to low construct validity and reproducibility. Moreover, (3) emotional empathy is overemphasized, skewing our focus to a narrow subset of simplified tasks. We believe these issues hinder research progress and argue that current directions will benefit from a clear conceptualization that includes operationalizing cognitive empathy components. Our main objectives are to provide insight and guidance on empathy conceptualization for NLP research objectives and to encourage researchers to pursue the overlooked opportunities in this area, highly relevant, e.g., for clinical and educational sectors.

CAISA at WASSA 2022: Adapter-Tuning for Empathy Prediction
Allison Lahnala | Charles Welch | Lucie Flek
Proceedings of the 12th Workshop on Computational Approaches to Subjectivity, Sentiment & Social Media Analysis

We build a system that leverages adapters, a light weight and efficient method for leveraging large language models to perform the task Em- pathy and Distress prediction tasks for WASSA 2022. In our experiments, we find that stacking our empathy and distress adapters on a pre-trained emotion lassification adapter performs best compared to full fine-tuning approaches and emotion feature concatenation. We make our experimental code publicly available

Unifying Data Perspectivism and Personalization: An Application to Social Norms
Joan Plepi | Béla Neuendorf | Lucie Flek | Charles Welch
Proceedings of the 2022 Conference on Empirical Methods in Natural Language Processing

Instead of using a single ground truth for language processing tasks, several recent studies have examined how to represent and predict the labels of the set of annotators. However, often little or no information about annotators is known, or the set of annotators is small. In this work, we examine a corpus of social media posts about conflict from a set of 13k annotators and 210k judgements of social norms. We provide a novel experimental setup that applies personalization methods to the modeling of annotators and compare their effectiveness for predicting the perception of social norms. We further provide an analysis of performance across subsets of social situations that vary by the closeness of the relationship between parties in conflict, and assess where personalization helps the most.


Exploring Self-Identified Counseling Expertise in Online Support Forums
Allison Lahnala | Yuntian Zhao | Charles Welch | Jonathan K. Kummerfeld | Lawrence C An | Kenneth Resnicow | Rada Mihalcea | Verónica Pérez-Rosas
Findings of the Association for Computational Linguistics: ACL-IJCNLP 2021


Exploring the Value of Personalized Word Embeddings
Charles Welch | Jonathan K. Kummerfeld | Verónica Pérez-Rosas | Rada Mihalcea
Proceedings of the 28th International Conference on Computational Linguistics

In this paper, we introduce personalized word embeddings, and examine their value for language modeling. We compare the performance of our proposed prediction model when using personalized versus generic word representations, and study how these representations can be leveraged for improved performance. We provide insight into what types of words can be more accurately predicted when building personalized models. Our results show that a subset of words belonging to specific psycholinguistic categories tend to vary more in their representations across users and that combining generic and personalized word embeddings yields the best performance, with a 4.7% relative reduction in perplexity. Additionally, we show that a language model using personalized word embeddings can be effectively used for authorship attribution.

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Counseling-Style Reflection Generation Using Generative Pretrained Transformers with Augmented Context
Siqi Shen | Charles Welch | Rada Mihalcea | Verónica Pérez-Rosas
Proceedings of the 21th Annual Meeting of the Special Interest Group on Discourse and Dialogue

We introduce a counseling dialogue system that seeks to assist counselors while they are learning and refining their counseling skills. The system generates counselors’reflections – i.e., responses that reflect back on what the client has said given the dialogue history. Our method builds upon the new generative pretrained transformer architecture and enhances it with context augmentation techniques inspired by traditional strategies used during counselor training. Through a set of comparative experiments, we show that the system that incorporates these strategies performs better in the reflection generation task than a system that is just fine-tuned with counseling conversations. To confirm our findings, we present a human evaluation study that shows that our system generates naturally-looking reflections that are also stylistically and grammatically correct.

Expressive Interviewing: A Conversational System for Coping with COVID-19
Charles Welch | Allison Lahnala | Veronica Perez-Rosas | Siqi Shen | Sarah Seraj | Larry An | Kenneth Resnicow | James Pennebaker | Rada Mihalcea
Proceedings of the 1st Workshop on NLP for COVID-19 (Part 2) at EMNLP 2020

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has raised concerns for many regarding personal and public health implications, financial security and economic stability. Alongside many other unprecedented challenges, there are increasing concerns over social isolation and mental health. We introduce Expressive Interviewing – an interview-style conversational system that draws on ideas from motivational interviewing and expressive writing. Expressive Interviewing seeks to encourage users to express their thoughts and feelings through writing by asking them questions about how COVID-19 has impacted their lives. We present relevant aspects of the system’s design and implementation as well as quantitative and qualitative analyses of user interactions with the system. In addition, we conduct a comparative evaluation with a general purpose dialogue system for mental health that shows our system potential in helping users to cope with COVID-19 issues.

Compositional Demographic Word Embeddings
Charles Welch | Jonathan K. Kummerfeld | Verónica Pérez-Rosas | Rada Mihalcea
Proceedings of the 2020 Conference on Empirical Methods in Natural Language Processing (EMNLP)

Word embeddings are usually derived from corpora containing text from many individuals, thus leading to general purpose representations rather than individually personalized representations. While personalized embeddings can be useful to improve language model performance and other language processing tasks, they can only be computed for people with a large amount of longitudinal data, which is not the case for new users. We propose a new form of personalized word embeddings that use demographic-specific word representations derived compositionally from full or partial demographic information for a user (i.e., gender, age, location, religion). We show that the resulting demographic-aware word representations outperform generic word representations on two tasks for English: language modeling and word associations. We further explore the trade-off between the number of available attributes and their relative effectiveness and discuss the ethical implications of using them.

Improving Low Compute Language Modeling with In-Domain Embedding Initialisation
Charles Welch | Rada Mihalcea | Jonathan K. Kummerfeld
Proceedings of the 2020 Conference on Empirical Methods in Natural Language Processing (EMNLP)

Many NLP applications, such as biomedical data and technical support, have 10-100 million tokens of in-domain data and limited computational resources for learning from it. How should we train a language model in this scenario? Most language modeling research considers either a small dataset with a closed vocabulary (like the standard 1 million token Penn Treebank), or the whole web with byte-pair encoding. We show that for our target setting in English, initialising and freezing input embeddings using in-domain data can improve language model performance by providing a useful representation of rare words, and this pattern holds across several different domains. In the process, we show that the standard convention of tying input and output embeddings does not improve perplexity when initializing with embeddings trained on in-domain data.


World Knowledge for Abstract Meaning Representation Parsing
Charles Welch | Jonathan K. Kummerfeld | Song Feng | Rada Mihalcea
Proceedings of the Eleventh International Conference on Language Resources and Evaluation (LREC 2018)


Targeted Sentiment to Understand Student Comments
Charles Welch | Rada Mihalcea
Proceedings of COLING 2016, the 26th International Conference on Computational Linguistics: Technical Papers

We address the task of targeted sentiment as a means of understanding the sentiment that students hold toward courses and instructors, as expressed by students in their comments. We introduce a new dataset consisting of student comments annotated for targeted sentiment and describe a system that can both identify the courses and instructors mentioned in student comments, as well as label the students’ sentiment toward those entities. Through several comparative evaluations, we show that our system outperforms previous work on a similar task.