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J Comp Psychol. 2007 Nov;121(4):387-97.

Generalization hypothesis of abstract-concept learning: learning strategies and related issues in Macaca mulatta, Cebus apella, and Columba livia.

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  • 1Department of Neurobiology and Anatomy, University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, Medical School, Houston, TX 77030, USA. anthony.a.wright@uth.tmc.edu


The generalization hypothesis of abstract-concept learning was tested with a meta-analysis of rhesus monkeys (Macaca mulatta), capuchin monkeys (Cebus apella), and pigeons (Columba livia) learning a same/different (S/D) task with expanding training sets. The generalization hypothesis states that as the number of training items increases, generalization from the training pairs will increase and could explain the subjects' accurate novel-stimulus transfer. By contrast, concept learning is learning the relationship between each pair of items; with more training items subjects learn more exemplars of the rule and transfer better. Having to learn the stimulus pairs (the generalization hypothesis) would require more training as the set size increases, whereas learning the concept might require less training because subjects would be learning an abstract rule. The results strongly support concept or rule learning despite severely relaxing the generalization-hypothesis parameters. Thus, generalization was not a factor in the transfer from these experiments, adding to the evidence that these subjects were learning the S/D abstract concept.

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