The acquisition of category structure in unsupervised learning

Audrey S. Kaplan, Gregory L. Murphy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Four experiments examined the extent to which prior knowledge influences the acquisition of category structure in unsupervised learning conditions. Prior knowledge is general knowledge about a broad domain that explains why an object has the features it does. Category structure refers to the statistical regularities of features within and across categories. Subjects viewed items and then divided them up into the categories that seemed most natural. Each item had one feature that was related to prior knowledge and five features that were not. The results showed that even this small amount of prior knowledge helped subjects to discover the category structure. In addition, prior knowledge enhanced the learning of many of the category's features, and not just the features that were directly relevant to the knowledge. The results suggest that prior knowledge may help to integrate the features of a category, thereby improving the acquisition of category structure.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)699-712
Number of pages14
JournalMemory and Cognition
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 1999

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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