On Separate Normalization in Self-supervised Transformers

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 36 (NeurIPS 2023) Main Conference Track

Bibtex Paper


Xiaohui Chen, Yinkai Wang, Yuanqi Du, Soha Hassoun, Liping Liu


Self-supervised training methods for transformers have demonstrated remarkable performance across various domains. Previous transformer-based models, such as masked autoencoders (MAE), typically utilize a single normalization layer for both the [CLS] symbol and the tokens. We propose in this paper a simple modification that employs separate normalization layers for the tokens and the [CLS] symbol to better capture their distinct characteristics and enhance downstream task performance. Our method aims to alleviate the potential negative effects of using the same normalization statistics for both token types, which may not be optimally aligned with their individual roles. We empirically show that by utilizing a separate normalization layer, the [CLS] embeddings can better encode the global contextual information and are distributed more uniformly in its anisotropic space. When replacing the conventional normalization layer with the two separate layers, we observe an average 2.7% performance improvement over the image, natural language, and graph domains.