Comparison Promotes Learning and Transfer of Relational Categories

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Abstract

We investigated the effect of co-presenting training items during supervised classification learning of novel relational categories. Strong evidence exists that comparison induces a structural alignment process that renders common relational structure more salient. We hypothesized that comparisons between exemplars would facilitate learning and transfer of categories that cohere around a common relational property. The effect of comparison was investigated using learning trials that elicited a separate classification response for each item in presentation pairs that could be drawn from the same or different categories. This methodology ensures consideration of both items and invites comparison through an implicit same–different judgment inherent in making the two responses. In a test phase measuring learning and transfer, the comparison group significantly outperformed a control group receiving an equivalent training session of single-item classification learning. Comparison-based learners also outperformed the control group on a test of far transfer, that is, the ability to accurately classify items from a novel domain that was relationally alike, but surface-dissimilar, to the training materials. Theoretical and applied implications of this comparison advantage are discussed.

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