Prior knowledge and exemplar frequency

Harlan D. Harris, Gregory L. Murphy, B. O.B. Rehder

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


New concepts can be learned by statistical associations, as well as by relevant existing knowledge. We examined the interaction of these two processes by manipulating exemplar frequency and thematic knowledge and considering their interaction through computational modeling. Exemplar frequency affects category learning, with high-frequency items learned more quickly than low-frequency items, and prior knowledge usually speeds category learning. In two experiments in which both of these factors were manipulated, we found that the effects of frequency are greatly reduced when stimulus features are linked by thematic prior knowledge and that frequency effects on single stimulus features can actually be reversed by knowledge. We account for these results with the knowledge resonance model of category learning (Rehder & Murphy, 2003) and conclude that prior knowledge may change representations so that empirical effects, such as those caused by frequency manipulations, are modulated.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1335-1350
Number of pages16
JournalMemory and Cognition
Issue number7
StatePublished - Oct 2008

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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