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Similarity-dissimilarity competition in disjunctive classification tasks

Typical disjunctive artificial classification tasks require participants to sort stimuli according to rules such as x likes cars only when black and coupe OR white and SUV. For categories like this, increasing the salience of the diagnostic dimensions has two simultaneous effects: increasing the distance between members of the same category and increasing the distance between members of opposite categories. Potentially, these two effects respectively hinder and facilitate classification learning, leading to competing predictions for learning. Increasing saliency may lead to members of the same category to be considered less similar, while the members of separate categories might be considered more dissimilar. This implies a similarity-dissimilarity competition between two basic classification processes. When focusing on sub-category similarity, one would expect more difficult classification when members of the same category become less similar (disregarding the increase of between-category dissimilarity); however, the between-category dissimilarity increase predicts a less difficult classification. Our categorization study suggests that participants rely more on using dissimilarities between opposite categories than finding similarities between sub-categories. We connect our results to rule- and exemplar-based classification models. The pattern of influences of within- and between-category similarities are challenging for simple single-process categorization systems based on rules or exemplars. Instead, our results suggest that either these processes should be integrated in a hybrid model, or that category learning operates by forming clusters within each category.



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