Statistical learning using real-world scenes: extracting categorical regularities without conscious intent.
Recent work has shown that observers can parse streams of syllables, tones, or visual shapes and learn statistical regularities in them without conscious intent (e.g., learn that A is always followed by B). Here, we demonstrate that these statistical-learning mechanisms can operate at an abstract, conceptual level. In Experiments 1 and 2, observers incidentally learned which semantic categories of natural scenes covaried (e.g., kitchen scenes were always followed by forest scenes). In Experiments 3 and 4, category learning with images of scenes transferred to words that represented the categories. In each experiment, the category of the scenes was irrelevant to the task. Together, these results suggest that statisticallearning mechanisms can operate at a categorical level, enabling generalization of learned regularities using existing conceptual knowledge. Such mechanisms may guide learning in domains as disparate as the acquisition of causal knowledge and the development of cognitive maps from environmental exploration.