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Workshop: Instruction Tuning and Instruction Following

Tell Your Model Where to Attend: Post-hoc Attention Steering for LLMs

Qingru Zhang · Chandan Singh · Liyuan Liu · Xiaodong Liu · Bin Yu · Jianfeng Gao · Tuo Zhao

Keywords: [ Contextual emphasizing ] [ Post-hot ] [ Attention Steering ]


In human-written articles, we often leverage the subtleties of text style, such as bold and italics, to guide the attention of readers. These textual emphases are vital for the readers to grasp the conveyed information. When interacting with large language models (LLMs), we have a similar need -- steering the model to pay closer attention to user-specified information, e.g., an instruction. Existing methods, however, are constrained to process plain text and do not support such a mechanism. This motivates us to introduce PASTA -- Post-hoc Attention STeering Approach, a method that allows LLMs to read text with user-specified emphasis marks. To this end, PASTA identifies a small subset of attention heads and applies precise attention reweighting on them, directing the model attention to user-specified parts. Like prompting, PASTA is applied at inference time and does not require changing any model parameters. Experiments demonstrate that PASTA can substantially enhance an LLM's ability to follow user instructions or integrate new knowledge from user inputs, leading to a significant performance improvement on a variety of tasks, e.g., an average accuracy improvement of 22% for LLAMA-7B. Our code is publicly available at .

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