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J Exp Psychol Gen. 2001 Mar;130(1):116-39.

The sensitization and differentiation of dimensions during category learning.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, Indiana University, Bloomington 47405, USA.


The reported experiments explored 2 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. Consistent with learned selective attention, positive transfer was found when initial and final categorizations shared either relevant or irrelevant dimensions. 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 spatially overlapping dimensions.

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