Promoting transfer through complex systems principles

Goldstone, R. L., & Wilensky, U. (2008).  Promoting Transfer through Complex Systems Principles. Journal of the Learning Sciences, 17, 465-516.

Understanding scientific phenomena in terms of complex systems principles is both scientifically and pedagogically important. Situations from different disciplines of science are often governed by the same principle, and so promoting knowledge transfer across disciplines makes valuable cross-fertilization and scientific unification possible. Although evidence for this kind of transfer has been historically controversial, experiments and observations of students suggest pedagogical methods to promote transfer of complex systems principles. One powerful strategy is for students to actively interpret the elements and interactions of perceptually grounded scenarios. Such interpretation can be facilitated through the presentation of cases alongside general principles, and by students exploring and constructing computational models of cases. The resulting knowledge can be both concretely grounded yet highly perspective-dependent and generalizeable. We discuss methods for coordinating computational and mental models of complex systems, the roles of idealization and concreteness in fostering understanding and generalization, and other complementary theoretical approaches to transfer.

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A well grounded education: The role of perception in science and mathematics

Goldstone, R. L., Landy, D., & Son, J. Y. (2008). A well grounded education: The role of perception in science and mathematics. In M. de Vega, A. Glenberg, & A. Graesser (Eds.) Symbols, embodiment, and meaning. Oxford Press (pp . 327-355).

One of the most important applications of grounded cognition theories is to science and mathematics education where the primary goal is to foster knowledge and skills that are widely transportable to new situations. This presents a challenge to those grounded cognition theories that tightly tie knowledge to the specifics of a single situation. In this chapter, we develop a theory learning that is grounded in perception and interaction, yet also supports transferable knowledge. A first series of studies explores the transfer of complex systems principles across two superficially dissimilar scenarios. The results indicate that students most effectively show transfer by applying previously learned perceptual and interpretational processes to new situations. A second series shows that even when students are solving formal algebra problems, they are greatly influenced by non-symbolic, perceptual grouping factors. We interpret both results as showing that high-level cognition that might seem to involve purely symbolic reasoning is actually driven by perceptual processes. The educational implication is that instruction in science and mathematics should involve not only teaching abstract rules and equations but also training students to perceive and interact with their world.

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Learning to see and conceive

Goldstone, R. L., Gerganov, A., Landy, D., & Roberts, M. E. (2008). Learning to see and conceive. In L. Tommasi, M. Peterson, & L. Nadel (Eds.) The New cognitive sciences (part of the Vienna Series in Theoretical Biology). Cambridge, MA.: MIT Press. (pp. 163-188).

Human concept learning depends upon perception. Our concept of Car is built out of perceptual features such as “engine,” “tire,” and “bumper.” However, recent research indicates that the dependency works both ways. We see bumpers and engines in part because we have acquired Car concepts and detected examples of them. Perception both influences and is influenced by the concepts that we learn. We have been exploring the psychological mechanisms by which concepts and perception mutually influence one another, and building computational models to show that the circle of influences is benign rather than vicious.

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Emergent processes in group behavior

Goldstone, R. L., Roberts, M. E., & Gureckis, T. M. (2008).  Emergent Processes in Group Behavior. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 17, 10-15.

Just as networks of neurons create structured thoughts beyond the ken of any individual neuron, so people spontaneously organize themselves into groups to create emergent organizations that no individual may intend, comprehend, or even perceive. Recent technological advances have provided us with unprecedented opportunities for conducting controlled, laboratory experiments on human collective behavior. We describe two experimental paradigms where we attempt to build predictive bridges between the beliefs, goals, and cognitive capacities of individuals and group-level patterns, showing how the members of a group dynamically allocate themselves to resources, and how innovations are spread in a social network. Agent-based computational models have provided useful explanatory and predictive accounts. Together, the models and experiments point to tradeoffs between exploration and exploitation, compromises between individuals using their own innovations and innovations obtained from their peers, and the emergence of group-level organizations such as population waves, bandwagon effects, and spontaneous specialization.

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Collective search in concrete and abstract spaces

Goldstone, R. L., Roberts, M. E., Mason, W., & Gureckis, T. (2008). Collective search in concrete and abstract spaces. In T. Kugler, J. C. Smith, T. Connelly, and Y. Sun (Eds.) Decision modeling and behavior in complex and uncertain environments. New York: Springer Press. (pp. 277-308).

Our laboratory has been studying the emergence of collective search behavior from a complex systems perspective. We have developed an internet-based experimental platform that allows groups of people to interact with each other in real time on networked computers. The experiments implement virtual environments where participants can see the moment-to-moment actions of their peers and immediately respond to their environment. Agent-based computational models are used as accounts of the experimental results. We describe two paradigms for collective search – one in physical space and the other in an abstract problem space. The physical search situation concerns competitive foraging for resources by individuals inhabiting an environment consisting largely of other individuals foraging for the same resources. The abstract search concerns the dissemination of innovations in social networks. Across both scenarios, the group-level behavior that emerges reveals influences of exploration and exploitation, bandwagon effects, population waves, and compromises between individuals using their own information and information obtained from their peers.

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The effect of internal structure of categories on perception

Gureckis, T. M., & Goldstone, R. L. (2008).  The effect of internal structure of categories on perception. Proceedings of the Thirtieth Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society,(pp. 1876-1881). Washington, D.C.: Cognitive Science Society.

A novel study is presented that explores the effect that learning internally organized categories has on the ability to subsequently discriminate category members. The results demonstrate the classic categorical perception effect whereby discrimination of stimuli that belong to different categories is improved following training, while the ability to discriminate stimuli belonging to the same category is reduced. We further report a new within-category perceptual effect whereby category members that share the same category label but fall into different sub-clusters within that category are better discriminated than items that share the same category and cluster. The results show that learners are sensitive to multiple sources structure beyond simply the labels provided during supervised training. A computational model is presented to account for the results whereby multiple levels of encoding (i.e., at the item-, cluster-, and category- level) may simultaneously contribute to perception.

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Search in external and internal spaces

Hills, T. T., Todd, P. M., & Goldstone, R. L. (2008), Search in external and internal spaces.Psychological Science, 19, 676-682.

There is compelling molecular and behavioral evidence that goal-directed cognition is an evolutionary descendent of spatial-foraging behavior. Across animal species, similar dopaminergic processes modulate between exploratory and exploitative foraging behaviors and control attention. Consequently, we hypothesized that spatialforaging activity could prime attentional cognitive activity. We examined how searching in physical space influences subsequent search in abstract cognitive space by presenting participants with a spatial-foraging task followed by a repeated Scrabble task involving search for words that could be made from letter sets. Participants who searched through clumpier distributions in space behaved as if words were more densely clumped in the Scrabble task. This was not a function of arousal, but was consistent with predictions of optimal-foraging theory. Furthermore, individual differences in exploratory search were conserved across
the two types of tasks. Along with the biological evidence, our results support the idea that there are generalized cognitive search processes.

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Effect of rule choice in dynamic interactive spatial commons

Janssen, M. A., Goldstone, R. L., Menczer, F., & Ostrom, E. (2008).  Effect of rule choice in dynamic interactive spatial commons. International Journal of the Commons, 2, 288-312.

This paper uses laboratory experiments to examine the effect of an endogenous rule change from open access to private property as a potential solution to over-harvesting in commons dilemmas. A novel, spatial, real-time renewable resource environment was used to investigate whether participants were willing to invest in changing the rules from an open access situation to a private property system. We found that half of the participants invested in creating private property arrangements. Groups who had experienced private property in the second round of the experiment, made different decisions in the third round when open access was re-instituted in contrast to groups who experienced three rounds of open access. At the group level, earnings increased in Round 3, but this was at a cost of more inequality. No significant differences in outcomes occurred between experiments where rules were imposed by the experimental design or chosen by participants.

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How the appearance of an operator affects its formal precedence

Landy, D. H., Jones, M. N., & Goldstone, R. L. (2008).  How the appearance of an operator affects its formal precedence. Proceedings of the Thirtieth Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society, , (pp. 2109-2114). Washington, D.C.: Cognitive Science Society

Two experiments test predictions of a visual process-driven model of multi-term arithmetic computation. The visual process model predicts that attention should be drawn toward multiplication signs more readily than toward plus signs, and that narrow spaces should draw gaze comparably to multiplication signs. Although both of these predictions are verified by behavioral response measures and eye-tracking, the visual process model cannot account for patterns of early looking. The results suggest that people strategically deploy visual computation strategies.

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Propagation of innovations in networked groups

Mason, W. A., Jones, A., & Goldstone, R. L. (2008). Propagation of innovations in networked groups. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 137, 422-433.

A novel paradigm was developed to study the behavior of groups of networked people searching a problem space. We examined how different network structures affect the propagation of information in laboratory-created groups. Participants made numerical guesses and received scores that were also made available to their neighbors in the network. The networks were compared on speed of discovery and convergence on the optimal solution. One experiment showed that individuals within a group tend to converge on similar solutions even when there is an equally valid alternative solution. Two additional studies demonstrated that the optimal network structure depends on the problem space being explored, with networks that incorporate spatially-based cliques having an advantage for problems that benefit from broad exploration, and networks with greater long-range connectivity having an advantage for problems requiring less exploration.

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Simplicity and generalization: Short-cutting abstraction in children’s object categorizations

Son, J. Y., Smith, L. B., & Goldstone, R. L. (2008).  implicity and generalization: Short-cutting abstraction in children’s object categorizations. Cognition, 108, 626-638.

Development in any domain is often characterized by increasingly abstract representations. Recent evidence in the domain of shape recognition provides one example; between 18 and 24 months children appear to build increasingly abstract representations of object shape [Smith, L. B. (2003). Learning to recognize objects. Psychological Science, 14, 244– 250]. Abstraction is in part simplification because it requires the removal of irrelevant information. At the same time, part of generalization is ignoring irrelevant differences. The resulting prediction is this: simplification may enable generalization. Four experiments asked whether simple training instances could shortcut the process of abstraction and directly promote appropriate generalization. Toddlers were taught novel object categories with either simple or complex training exemplars. We found that children who learned with simple objects were able to generalize according to shape similarity, typically relevant for early object categories, better than those who learned with complex objects. Abstraction is the product of learning; using simplified – already abstracted instances – can short-cut that learning, leading to robust generalization.

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The effects of peer information on problem-solving in a networked group

Wisdom, T. N., Song, X., & Goldstone, R. L. (2008).  The effects of peer information on problem-solving in a networked group. Proceedings of the Thirtieth Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society, , (pp. 583-588). Washington, D.C.: Cognitive Science Society

In this experiment, we implemented a problem-solving task in which groups of participants simultaneously play a simple puzzle game, with score feedback provided after each of 24 rounds. Each participant in a group is allowed to view and imitate the guesses of others during the game. Results show that when the utility of others’ innovations is unambiguous, individuals base their own solutions on personal innovation and productively imitate other players’ innovations early on, and that this tendency to imitate is proportional to the relative amount of information available from others. Average trends of innovation and imitation decreased across rounds as player guesses stabilized and scores increased. Mean scores and imitation increased with group size, while individual innovation decreased. Results are consistent with previously studied social learning strategies in several taxa.

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