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A dimensional summation account of polymorphous category learning

Authors
  • Wills, Andy J.1
  • Ellett, Lyn2
  • Milton, Fraser3
  • Croft, Gareth1
  • Beesley, Tom4
  • 1 University of Plymouth, Plymouth, UK , Plymouth (United Kingdom)
  • 2 Royal Holloway University of London, Egham, UK , Egham (United Kingdom)
  • 3 University of Exeter, Exeter, UK , Exeter (United Kingdom)
  • 4 Lancaster University, Lancaster, UK , Lancaster (United Kingdom)
Type
Published Article
Journal
Learning & Behavior
Publisher
Springer US
Publication Date
Mar 13, 2020
Volume
48
Issue
1
Pages
66–83
Identifiers
DOI: 10.3758/s13420-020-00409-6
Source
Springer Nature
Keywords
License
Yellow

Abstract

Polymorphous concepts are hard to learn, and this is perhaps surprising because they, like many natural concepts, have an overall similarity structure. However, the dimensional summation hypothesis (Milton and Wills Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition, 30, 407–415 2004) predicts this difficulty. It also makes a number of other predictions about polymorphous concept formation, which are tested here. In Experiment 4, we confirm the theory’s prediction that polymorphous concept formation should be facilitated by deterministic pretraining on the constituent features of the stimulus. This facilitation is relative to an equivalent amount of training on the polymorphous concept itself. In further experiments, we compare the predictions of the dimensional summation hypothesis with a more general strategic account (Experiment 2), a seriality of training account (Experiment 3), a stimulus decomposition account (also Experiment 3), and an error-based account (Experiment 4). The dimensional summation hypothesis provides the best account of these data. In Experiment 5, a further prediction is confirmed—the single feature pretraining effect is eliminated by a concurrent counting task. The current experiments suggest the hypothesis that natural concepts might be acquired by the deliberate serial summation of evidence. This idea has testable implications for classroom learning.

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