Explanation and prior knowledge interact to guide learning

Joseph J. Williams, Tania Lombrozo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

47 Scopus citations

Abstract

How do explaining and prior knowledge contribute to learning? Four experiments explored the relationship between explanation and prior knowledge in category learning. The experiments independently manipulated whether participants were prompted to explain the category membership of study observations and whether category labels were informative in allowing participants to relate prior knowledge to patterns underlying category membership. The experiments revealed a superadditive interaction between explanation and informative labels, with explainers who received informative labels most likely to discover (Experiments 1 and 2) and generalize (Experiments 3 and 4) a pattern consistent with prior knowledge. However, explainers were no more likely than controls to discover multiple patterns (Experiments 1 and 2), indicating that effects of explanation are relatively targeted. We suggest that explanation recruits prior knowledge to assess whether candidate patterns are likely to have broad scope (i.e., to generalize within and beyond study observations). This interpretation is supported by the finding that effects of explanation on prior knowledge were attenuated when learners believed prior knowledge was irrelevant to generalizing category membership (Experiment 4). This research provides evidence that explanation can serve as a mechanism for deploying prior knowledge to assess the scope of observed patterns.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)55-84
Number of pages30
JournalCognitive Psychology
Volume66
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Feb 2013
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Artificial Intelligence

Keywords

  • Category learning
  • Explanation
  • Generalization
  • Learning
  • Prior knowledge
  • Self-explanation

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