A Causal View for Item-level Effect of Recommendation on User Preference

Web Search and Data Mining (WSDM)


Recommender systems not only serve users but also affect user preferences through personalized recommendations. Recent researches investigate the effects of the entire recommender system on user preferences, i.e., system-level effects, and find that recommendations may lead to problems such as echo chambers and filter bubbles. To properly alleviate the problems, it is necessary to estimate the effects of recommending a specific item on user preferences, i.e., item-level effects. For example, by understanding whether recommending an item aggravates echo chambers, we can better decide whether to recommend it or not.

This work designs a method to estimate the item-level effects from the causal perspective. We resort to causal graphs to characterize the average treatment effect of recommending an item on the preference of another item. The key to estimating the effects lies in mitigating the confounding bias of time and user features without the costly randomized control trials. Towards the goal, we estimate the causal effects from historical observations through a method with stratification and matching to address the two confounders, respectively. Nevertheless, directly implementing stratification and matching is intractable, which requires high computational cost due to the large sample size. We thus propose efficient approximations of stratification and matching to reduce the computation complexity. Extensive experimental results on two real-world datasets validate the effectiveness and efficiency of our method. We also show a simple example of using the item-level effects to provide insights for mitigating echo chambers.

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