The Simple Advantage in Categorical Generalization of Chinese Characters


Research in relational learning suggests that simple training instances may lead to better generalization than complex training instances. We examined whether this “simple advantage” extends to category learning in adults with simplified and traditional (more complex) Chinese writing scripts. In Experiment 1, participants learned Chinese characters and their English translations, performed a memorization test, and were asked to generalize their learning to the corresponding characters written in the other script. In Experiment 2, we removed the training phase and modified the tests to examine transfer based purely on perceptual similarities between simplified and traditional characters. We found the simple advantage in both experiments. Training with simplified characters produced better generalization than training with traditional characters, both when generalization relied on recognition memory and on pure perceptual similarities. This finding advances our understanding of how features of a learning opportunity interact with domain-general learning mechanisms to prepare the mind for transfer.

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