Investigations into unsupervised category learning: The role of working memory in learning category structures
Hayes, Matthew Wood
The present research explored the role of working memory (WM) in unsupervised category learning, learning without an external tutor or even knowing that categories exist, by investigating its role using a pattern-sequence manipulation. A pattern-sequence manipulation compares learning when items from categories are presented together versus when the items are presented in random order. Experiment 1 extended the pattern-sequence manipulation to assess category knowledge separate from paired-associate learning. Participants performed equally well on new and studied items, supporting the hypothesis that the pattern-sequence manipulation results in the acquisition of category information, not simply memory for item-feature associations. Experiment 2 introduced a WM factor, administering the method used in Experiment 1 to a group of high and low WM span participants. There was reliable support for a role of WM span in the discovery and acquisition of category knowledge, but this role was different from the one hypothesized. The high WM span participants exhibited higher overall accuracies than the low WM span participants, but did not benefit more from the pattern-sequence effect than did the low WM span participants as predicted.
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