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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Category learning in preschool and primary school children: The use of rule-based and similarity-based strategies


Categories can be learned through different strategies. Sometimes we may use abstract rules to categorize objects, and other times we may rely on the perceptual similarity among stimuli. The ability to categorize objects based on a common pattern develops since early childhood and exhibits systematic age differences. Numerous studies demonstrated that younger children rely on similarity-based processes, while older children employ rule-based categorization strategies (Miles & Minda, 2009; Rabi & Minda, 2014; Deng & Sloutsky, 2016). We used a model-based approach to investigate individual differences in category learning in pre-school children (6 years old) and primary school children (6-8 and 10-11 years old). Our results suggest that older children were more likely to employ a rule-based categorization strategy and demonstrated better learning outcomes. Lastly, we employed several computational models of categorization to uncover the properties of the process that may best account for the obtained results.

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