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Workshop: The Neglected Assumptions In Causal Inference

Strategic Instrumental Variable Regression: Recovering Causal Relationships From Strategic Responses

Keegan Harris · Dung Ngo · Logan Stapleton · Hoda Heidari · Steven Wu


In social domains, Machine Learning algorithms often prompt individuals to strategically modify their observable attributes to receive more favorable predictions. As a result, the distribution the predictive model is trained on may differ from the one it operates on in deployment. While such distribution shifts, in general, hinder accurate predictions, our work identifies a unique opportunity associated with shifts due to strategic responses: We show that we can use strategic responses effectively to recover causal relationships between the observable features and outcomes we wish to predict. More specifically, we study a game-theoretic model in which a principal deploys a sequence of models to predict an outcome of interest (e.g., college GPA) for a sequence of strategic agents (e.g., college applicants). In response, strategic agents invest efforts and modify their features for better predictions. In such settings, unobserved confounding variables (e.g., family educational background) can influence both an agent's observable features (e.g., high school records) and outcomes (e.g., college GPA). Therefore, standard regression methods (such as OLS) generally produce biased estimators. In order to address this issue, our work establishes a novel connection between strategic responses to machine learning models and instrumental variable (IV) regression, by observing that the sequence of deployed models can be viewed as an instrument that affects agents' observable features but does not directly influence their outcomes. Therefore, two-stage least squares (2SLS) regression can recover the causal relationships between observable features and outcomes.

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