Benefits of variation increase with preparation

Braithwaite, D. W., & Goldstone, R. L. (2014).  Benefits of variation increase with preparation.  Proceedings of the Thirty-Sixth Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society.  (pp. 1940-1945).  Quebec City, Canada: Cognitive Science Society.

Abstract concepts are characterized by their underlying structure rather than superficial features. Variation in the examples used to teach abstract concepts can draw attention towards shared structure and away from superficial detail, but too much variation can inhibit learning. The present study tested the possibility that increasing attention to underlying structural relations could alleviate the latter difficulty and thereby increase the benefits of varied examples. Participants were trained with either varied or similar examples of a mathematical concept, and were then tested on their ability to apply the concept to new cases. Before training, some participants received pre training aimed at increasing attention to the structural relations underlying the concept. The relative advantage of varied over similar examples was increased among participants who received the pretraining. Thus, preparation that promotes attention to the relations underlying abstract concepts can increase the benefits of learning from varied examples.

Download a PDF version of this article