Tests of an Exemplar-Memory Model of Classification Learning in a High-Dimensional Natural-Science Category Domain

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Experiments were conducted in which novice participants learned to classify pictures of rocks into real-world, scientifically defined categories. The experiments manipulated the distribution of training instances during an initial study phase, and then tested for correct classification and generalization performance during a transfer phase. The similarity structure of the to-be-learned categories was also manipulated across the experiments. A low-parameter version of an exemplar-memory model, used in combination with a high-dimensional feature-space representation for the rock stimuli, provided good overall accounts of the categorization data. The successful accounts included (a) predicting how performance on individual item types within the categories varied with the distributions of training examples, (b) predicting the overall levels of classification accuracy across the different rock categories, and (c) predicting the patterns of between-category confusions that arose when classification errors were made. The work represents a promising initial step in scaling up the application of formal models of perceptual classification learning to complex natural-category domains. We discuss further steps for making use of the model and its associated feature-space representation to search for effective techniques of teaching categories in the science classroom.

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