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Front Psychol. 2012 Mar 19;3:73. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2012.00073. eCollection 2012.

Developing representations of compound stimuli.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, Universiteit van Amsterdam Amsterdam, Netherlands.


Classification based on multiple dimensions of stimuli is usually associated with similarity-based representations, whereas uni-dimensional classifications are associated with rule-based representations. This paper studies classification of stimuli and category representations in school-aged children and adults when learning to categorize compound, multi-dimensional stimuli. Stimuli were such that both similarity-based and rule-based representations would lead to correct classification. This allows testing whether children have a bias for formation of similarity-based representations. The results are at odds with this expectation. Children use both uni-dimensional and multi-dimensional classification, and the use of both strategies increases with age. Multi-dimensional classification is best characterized as resulting from an analytic strategy rather than from procedural processing of overall-similarity. The conclusion is that children are capable of using complex rule-based categorization strategies that involve the use of multiple features of the stimuli. The main developmental change concerns the efficiency and consistency of the explicit learning system.


category learning; multiple systems; rule-based representation; similarity-based representation; strategy analysis

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