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The impact of context on pattern category learning and representation

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Context traditionally has been regarded in vision research as a determinant for the interpretation of sensory information on the basis of previously acquired knowledge. Here we propose a novel, complementary perspective by showing that context also specifically affects visual category learning. In two experiments involving sets of Compound Gabor patterns we explored how context, as given by the stimulus set to be learned, affects the internal representation of pattern categories. In Experiment 1, we changed the (local) context of the individual signal classes by changing the configuration of the learning set. In Experiment 2, we varied the (global) context of a fixed class configuration by changing the degree of signal accentuation. Generalization performance was assessed in terms of the ability to recognize contrast-inverted versions of the learning patterns. Both contextual variations yielded distinct effects on learning and generalization thus indicating a change in internal category representation. Computer simulations suggest that the latter is related to changes in the set of attributes underlying the production rules of the categories. The implications of these findings for phenomena of contrast (in)variance in visual perception are discussed.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Neuroscience Research Institute, School of Life and Health Sciences--Psychology, Aston University, Birmingham, UK 2: Institut für Medizinische Psychologie, Universität München, Germany

Publication date: 2004-11-01

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