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J Exp Psychol Learn Mem Cogn. 2013 May;39(3):821-31. doi: 10.1037/a0029526. Epub 2012 Jul 30.

Development, awareness and inductive selectivity.

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  • 1School of Psychology, University of New South Wales, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, 2052.


Two studies examined whether adults and children could learn to make context-dependent inferences about novel stimuli and the role of awareness of context cues in such learning. Participants were trained to match probes to targets on the basis of shape or color with the relevant dimension shifting according to item context. A selective induction test then examined context-dependent responding in a more complex matching task. Awareness of the role of context was assessed using a behavioral task and explicit questions. Experiment 1 showed that after training with the procedure described by Sloutsky and Fisher (2008), only a minority of adults showed evidence of context-dependent responding in the selective induction test. Experiment 2 used a modified training protocol that promoted attention to context cues. This led to reliable selective induction in a majority of adults and a sizeable proportion of 4- to 6-year-olds. Crucially, in both age groups, selective induction was dependent on awareness of context. Hence, children as young as 4 can learn to make selective inferences about novel stimuli, but only when they are aware of the relevant context cues. These results challenge previous claims that selective induction in children is the product of implicit learning.

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