The Costs of Supervised Classification: The Effect of Learning Task on Conceptual Flexibility

Aaron B. Hoffman, Bob Rehder

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Research has shown that learning a concept via standard supervised classification leads to a focus on diagnostic features, whereas learning by inferring missing features promotes the acquisition of within-category information. Accordingly, we predicted that classification learning would produce a deficit in people's ability to draw novel contrasts-distinctions that were not part of training-compared with feature inference learning. Two experiments confirmed that classification learners were at a disadvantage at making novel distinctions. Eye movement data indicated that this conceptual inflexibility was due to (a) a narrower attention profile that reduces the encoding of many category features and (b) learned inattention that inhibits the reallocation of attention to newly relevant information. Implications of these costs of supervised classification learning for views of conceptual structure are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)319-340
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: General
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 2010


  • Attention
  • Categories
  • Concepts
  • Eyetracking
  • Inference

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • General Psychology
  • Developmental Neuroscience


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