Putting category learning in order: Category structure and temporal arrangement affect the benefit of interleaved over blocked study
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Recent research in inductive category learning has demonstrated that interleaved study of category exemplars results in better performance than does studying each category in separate blocks. However, the questions of how the category structure influences this advantage and how simultaneous presentation interacts with the advantage are open issues. In this article, we present three experiments. The first experiment indicates that the advantage of interleaved over blocked study is modulated by the structure of the categories being studied. More specifically, interleaved study results in better generalization for categories with high within- and between-category similarity, whereas blocked presentation results in better generalization for categories with low within- and between-category similarity. In Experiment 2, we present evidence that when presented simultaneously, between-category comparisons (interleaved presentation) result in a performance advantage for high-similarity categories, but no differences were found for low-similarity categories. In Experiment 3, we directly compared simultaneous and successive presentation of low-similarity categories. We again found an overall benefit for blocked study with these categories. Overall, these results are consistent with the proposal that interleaving emphasizes differences between categories, whereas blocking emphasizes the discovery of commonalities among objects within the same category.
KeywordsInterleaving Inductive learning Perceptual category learning Comparison
Research supported in part by National Science Foundation REESE Grant No. 0910218 and Department of Education IES Grant No. R305A1100060. P.F.C. was also supported by a Fulbright Research Fellowship and by Graduate Research Fellowship SFRH/BD/68554/2010 from the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology (FCT), co-financed by the European Social Fund. The authors thank Caitlin Fausey and Drew Hendrickson for helpful discussion and suggestions, and Rachel Selonick, Kelly Rapp, Spenser Benge, and Abigail Kost for their assistance with data collection.
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