The sensitization and differentiation of dimensions during category learning

Goldstone, R. L, & Steyvers, M. (2001). The Sensitization and Differentiation of Dimensions During Category Learning.  Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 130,116-139.

The reported experiments explore two mechanisms by which object descriptions are flexibly adapted to support concept learning: selective attention and dimension differentiation. Arbitrary dimensions were created by blending photographs of faces in different proportions, and mixing these blends together.  Consistent with learned selective attention, positive transfer was found when initial and final categorizations shared either relevant or irrelevant dimensions, and negative transfer was found when previously relevant dimensions became irrelevant. Unexpectedly good transfer was observed when both irrelevant dimensions became relevant and relevant dimensions became irrelevant, and was explained in terms of participants learning to isolate one dimension from another. This account was further supported by experiments indicating that conditions expected to produce positive transfer via dimension differentiation produced better transfer than conditions expected to produce positive transfer via selective attention, but only when stimuli were composed of highly integral and overlapping dimensions. We discuss the relation between dimension differentiation and selective attention, mechanisms that may underlie these processes, and implications for category learning research.

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