A Trade-Off in Learning Across Levels of Abstraction in Adults and Children

AbstractLearning about novel objects not only involves noticing information that makes the object unique, but also what makes objects the same. Yet, these two levels of learning involve different pieces of information, meaning that learning one well could come at the cost of the other. Moreover, children may categorize in a fundamentally different way, resulting in these levels of learning interacting differently. To investigate this, we had adults and children perform a categorization task followed by an item recognition test. We found that adults showed a trade-off, such that the ability to categorize items came at the cost of memory for those items. Using a subset of more unique lures, children’s memory trended towards a trade-off with category learning. However, this was only observed among the older children. This suggests that adults’ efficient learning comes at a cost, and this trade-off may start to appear in the elementary school years.

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