Exemplar models as a mechanism for performing Bayesian inference

Lei Shi, Thomas L. Griffiths, Naomi H. Feldman, Adam N. Sanborn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

89 Scopus citations


Probabilistic models have recently received much attention as accounts of human cognition. However, most research in which probabilistic models have been used has been focused on formulating the abstract problems behind cognitive tasks and their optimal solutions, rather than on mechanisms that could implement these solutions. Exemplar models are a successful class of psychological process models in which an inventory of stored examples is used to solve problems such as identification, categorization, and function learning. We show that exemplar models can be used to perform a sophisticated form of Monte Carlo approximation known as importance sampling and thus provide a way to perform approximate Bayesian inference. Simulations of Bayesian inference in speech perception, generalization along a single dimension, making predictions about everyday events, concept learning, and reconstruction from memory show that exemplar models can often account for human performance with only a few exemplars, for both simple and relatively complex prior distributions. These results suggest that exemplar models provide a possible mechanism for implementing at least some forms of Bayesian inference.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)443-464
Number of pages22
JournalPsychonomic Bulletin and Review
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2010
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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