Subtyping as a knowledge preservation strategy in category learning

Lewis Bott, Gregory L. Murphy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Subtyping occurs when atypical examples are excluded from consideration in judging a category. In three experiments, we investigated whether subtyping can influence category learning. In each experiment, participants learned about a category where most, but not all, of the exemplars corresponded to a theme. The category structure included a subtyping dimension, which had one value for theme-congruent exemplars and another for exception exemplars. On the basis of work by Hayes, Foster, and Gadd (2003) and studies on social stereotyping, we hypothesized that this subtyping dimension would enable the participants to discount the exception exemplars, thereby facilitating category learning. Contrary to expectations, we did not find a subtyping effect with traditional category-learning procedures. By introducing the theme prior to learning, however, we observed increased effects on typicality ratings (Experiment 1) and facilitated learning of the category (Experiment 2). Experiment 3 provided direct evidence that introducing the theme prior to learning enhanced the subtyping effect and provided support for a knowledge-gating explanation of subtyping. We conclude that subtyping effects are strongest on already-learned concepts and that subtyping is unlikely to aid in the learning of new concepts, except in particular circumstances.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)432-443
Number of pages12
JournalMemory and Cognition
Issue number3
StatePublished - Apr 2007

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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