Restructuring partitioned knowledge: evidence of strategy retention in category learning

David Sewell

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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A recurring theme in the cognitive development literature is the notion that people restructure their task knowledge as they develop increasingly sophisticated strategies. A large body of empirical literature spanning several domains suggests that in some cases, the process of knowledge restructuring is best characterized by a process of sequentially replacing old strategies with newer ones. In other cases, restructuring appears to be better characterized as a process involving changes in the way partial knowledge elements are selectively applied to a task. Critically, the former, but not the latter position, suggests that it may be quite difficult for people to revert to using an old strategy after restructuring has already occurred. The three experiments reported herein suggest that knowledge restructuring observed in experimental settings is aptly characterized by a process of strategy retention. Specifically, people are shown to readily revert to using an old categorization strategy even after demonstrably having restructured their knowledge, suggesting that knowledge is best conceptualized as having a heterogeneous structure. Formal modeling further supports this interpretation of the empirical results, and highlights the important role of selective attention in determining the manifest response strategy. The implications of these findings are discussed in terms of an overarching mixture-of-experts framework of knowledge representation.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Publication statusUnpublished - 2008

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