Learning with a Purpose: The Influence of Goals

Sarah WellenCarnegie Mellon University
David DanksCarnegie Mellon University

Abstract

Most learning models assume, either implicitly or explicitly, that the goal of learning is to acquire a complete and veridical representation of the world, but this view assumes away the possibility that pragmatic goals can play a central role in learning. We propose instead that people are relatively frugal learners, acquiring goal-relevant information while ignoring goal-irrelevant features of the environment. Experiment 1 provides evidence that learning is goal-dependent, and that people are relatively (but not absolutely) frugal when given a specific, practical goal. Experiment 2 investigates possible mechanisms underlying this effect, and finds evidence that people exhibit goal-driven attention allocation, but not goal-driven reasoning. We conclude by examining how frugality can be integrated into Bayesian models of learning.

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