The Effect Of Intention On What Concepts Are Acquired

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Journal Of Verbal Learning And Verbal Behavior


Categories that have a strong family-resemblance structure should be learned more easily than categories based on a selected criterial attribute under conditions that promote non-analytic processing (that is guided by overall similarity). Two studies of artificial category learning by adults test the hypothesis that incidental conditions, more than intentional learning conditions, favor the acquisition of family-resemblance categories as opposed to categories based on criterial attributes. A third experiment confirms that this relation is mediated by the increased use of holistic processing under incidental conditions: exemplar encoding and sensitivity to overall similarity relations. A final study shows a parallel effect of developmental status. Under intentional learning conditions, 5-year olds, but not 10-year olds, have more difficulty learning criterial-attribute-based categories than categories organized by family resemblances. Thus, both characteristics of the task and characteristics of the learner affect the structural nature of the concept that is learned, and both effects underline the importance of overall similarity relations under more “primitive” conditions. These findings have implications for the understanding of natural concepts and natural category learning, where the role of overall similarity may have been underestimated.

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