Bias Runs Deep: Implicit Reasoning Biases in Persona-Assigned LLMs

1Allen Institute for AI, 2Stanford University, 3Princeton University


Recent works have showcased the ability of LLMs to embody diverse personas in their responses, exemplified by prompts like 'You are Yoda. Explain the Theory of Relativity.' While this ability allows personalization of LLMs and enables human behavior simulation, its effect on LLMs' capabilities remains unclear. To fill this gap, we present the first extensive study of the unintended side-effects of persona assignment on the ability of LLMs to perform basic reasoning tasks. Our study covers 24 reasoning datasets, 4 LLMs, and 19 diverse personas (e.g. an Asian person) spanning 5 socio-demographic groups.

Our experiments unveil that LLMs harbor deep rooted bias against various socio-demographics underneath a veneer of fairness. While they overtly reject stereotypes when explicitly asked ('Are Black people less skilled at mathematics?'), they manifest stereotypical and erroneous presumptions when asked to answer questions while adopting a persona. These can be observed as abstentions in responses, e.g., 'As a Black person, I can't answer this question as it requires math knowledge', and generally result in a substantial performance drop.

Our experiments with ChatGPT-3.5 show that this bias is ubiquitous—80% of our personas demonstrate bias; it is significant—some datasets show performance drops of 70%+; and can be especially harmful for certain groups—some personas suffer statistically significant drops on 80%+ of the datasets. Overall, all 4 LLMs exhibit this bias to varying extents, with GPT-4-Turbo showing the least but still a problematic amount of bias (evident in 42% of the personas). Further analysis shows that these persona-induced errors can be hard-to-discern and hard-to-avoid.

Our findings serve as a cautionary tale that the practice of assigning personas to LLMs—a trend on the rise—can surface their deep-rooted biases and have unforeseeable and detrimental side-effects.


    title = {Bias {R}uns {D}eep: Implicit Reasoning Biases in Persona-Assigned {LLM}s},
    author = {Gupta, Shashank and Shrivastava, Vaishnavi and Deshpande, Ameet and Kalyan, Ashwin and Clark, Peter and Sabharwal, Ashish and Khot, Tushar},
    booktitle = {The Twelfth International Conference on Learning Representations},
    year = {2024},