The development of category learning strategies: What makes the difference?

Rubi Hammer*, Gil Diesendruck, Daphna Weinshall, Shaul Hochstein

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

64 Scopus citations


Category learning can be achieved by identifying common features among category members, distinctive features among non-members, or both. These processes are psychologically and computationally distinct, and may have implications for the acquisition of categories at different hierarchical levels. The present study examines an account of children's difficulty in acquiring categories at the subordinate level grounded on these distinct comparison processes. Adults and children performed category learning tasks in which they were exposed either to pairs of objects from the same novel category or pairs of objects from different categories. The objects were designed so that for each category learning task, two features determined category membership whereas two other features were task irrelevant. In the learning stage participants compared pairs of objects noted to be either from the same category or from different categories. Object pairs were chosen so that the objective amount of information provided to the participants was identical in the two learning conditions. We found that when presented only with object pairs noted to be from the same category, young children (6 ≤ YO ≤ 9.5) learned the novel categories just as well as older children (10 ≤ YO ≤ 14) and adults. However, when presented only with object pairs known to be from different categories, unlike older children and adults, young children failed to learn the novel categories. We discuss cognitive and computational factors that may give rise to this comparison bias, as well as its expected outcomes.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)105-119
Number of pages15
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 2009

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study was supported by Grants from the Israel Science Foundation, the US–Israel Binational Science Foundation, and the European Union under the DIRAC integrated project IST-027787.


  • Categorization
  • Category learning
  • Cognitive development
  • Comparison
  • Concept hierarchy
  • Conceptual development
  • Learning to learn
  • Logical inference
  • Perceived similarity
  • Structural alignment
  • Taxonomic organization


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