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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Connecting perceptual and procedural abstractions in physical construction


Compositionality is a core feature of human cognition and behavior. People readily decompose visual objects into parts and complex procedures into subtasks. Here we investigate how these two abilities interact to support learning in a block-tower assembly experiment. We measured the way participants segmented these towers based on shape information alone, and asked how well the resulting parts explained the procedures other participants used to build them. We found that people decomposed these shapes in consistent ways and the most common parts appeared especially frequently as subroutines in the assembly experiment. Moreover, we found that the subroutines participants used converged over time, reflecting shared biases toward certain ways of reconstructing each tower. More broadly, our findings suggest important similarities between the perceptual and procedural abstractions humans use to perceive and interact with objects in their environment.

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