Drivers of Incidental Category Learning

AbstractLittle is known about how categories are learned incidentally without instructions to group objects, overt decisions about category identity, or feedback about these decisions. Here we investigate how category learning may occur based on the association of categories with behaviorally-relevant events and actions. Previous research developed the Systematic Multimodal Associations Reaction Time (SMART) task in which participants report the location of a visual target with a keypress. The location of an upcoming visual target is predicted by the identity of a novel sound category, exemplars of which precede appearance of the visual target. This category-to-location mapping supports incidental learning of auditory categories, with generalization to novel exemplars. Here, we examined whether this learning is driven by the category-to-location relationship, or instead by the association with distinct response alternatives. Across two experiments, we observe that both a covert, reaction time measure of category learning and an overt labeling task testing generalization of learning converge to indicate that the category-to-response relationship drives incidental learning in the SMART task.


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