Concept learning as motor program induction: A large-scale empirical study


Human concept learning is particularly impressive in two respects: the internal structure of concepts can be representationally rich, and yet the very same concepts can also be learned from just a few examples. Several decades of research have dramatically advanced our understanding of these two aspects of concepts. While the richness and speed of concept learning are most often studied in isolation, the power of human concepts may be best explained through their synthesis. This paper presents a large-scale empirical study of one-shot concept learning, suggesting that rich generative knowledge in the form of a motor program can be induced from just a single example of a novel concept. Participants were asked to draw novel handwritten characters given a reference form, and we recorded the motor data used for production. Multiple drawers of the same character not only produced visually similar drawings, but they also showed a striking correspondence in their strokes, as measured by their number, shape, order, and direction. This suggests that participants can infer a rich motor-based concept from a single example. We also show that the motor programs induced by individual subjects provide a powerful basis for one-shot classification, yielding far higher accuracy than state-of-the-art pattern recognition methods based on just the visual form.

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