Does practice in category learning increase rule use or exemplar use—or both?

Jean Pierre Thibaut, Sabine Gelaes, Gregory L. Murphy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Categorization research has demonstrated the use of both rules and remembered exemplars in classification, although there is disagreement over whether learners shift from one to the other or use both strategies simultaneously. Theoretical arguments can motivate predictions for both rule use and exemplar use increasing with more practice. We describe a single large experiment (n = 190) that manipulated the number of training items (category size), the number of presentations of each training item, and the similarity between the training and the transfer stimuli in order to discover when rules and exemplars are most likely to be used. Results showed that rules and exemplars both influenced classification and that exemplars were used more often with smaller categories, with more training on items, and when test items were similar to training items. There was no consistent evidence of a shift from rule-based to exemplar-based categorization with more learning. Importantly, we found a number of conditions in which rules and exemplars were both used, even within individual participants. We discuss our results in terms of hybrid models of classification.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)530-543
Number of pages14
JournalMemory and Cognition
Issue number4
StatePublished - May 1 2018


  • Abstraction
  • Category learning
  • Concepts
  • Exemplars
  • Rules

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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