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J Exp Psychol Learn Mem Cogn. 2009 May;35(3):731-41. doi: 10.1037/a0015005.

Learning mode and exemplar sequencing in unsupervised category learning.

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Department of Psychology and Institute for Nuroscience, University of Texas, Austin, TX 78712, USA.


Exemplar sequencing effects in incidental and intentional unsupervised category learning were investigated to illuminate how people form categories without an external teacher. Stimuli were perfectly separable into 2 categories based on 1 of 2 dimensions of variation. Sequencing of the first 20 training stimuli was manipulated. In the blocked condition, 10 Category A stimuli were followed by 10 Category B stimuli. In the intermixed condition, these 20 stimuli were ordered randomly. Experiment 1 revealed an interaction between learning mode and sequence, with better intentional learning for intermixed sequences but better incidental learning for blocked sequences. Experiment 2 showed that manipulating trial-to-trial variability along each dimension can impact intentional learning. Training sequences that emphasized variation along the category-relevant dimension resulted in better performance than sequences that emphasized variation along the category-irrelevant dimension. The results suggest that unsupervised category learning is influenced by the mode of learning and the order and nature of encountered exemplars.

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