Effects of Explanation and Comparison on Category Learning


Generating explanations and making comparisons have both been shown to improve learning. While each process has been studied individually, the relationship between explanation and comparison is not well understood. Three experiments evaluated the effectiveness of explanation and comparison prompts in learning novel categories. In Experiment 1, participants explained items’ category membership, performed pairwise comparisons between items (listed similarities and differences), did both, or did a control task. The explanation task increased the discovery of rules underlying category membership; however, the comparison task decreased rule discovery. Experiments 2 and 3 showed that (1) comparing all four category exemplars was more effective than either within-category or between-category pairwise comparisons, and that (2) “explain” participants reported higher levels of both spontaneous explanation and comparison than “compare” participants. This work provides insights into when explanation and comparison are most effective, and how these processes can work together to maximize learning.

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