The Effect of Categorisation on Sensitivity to Second-Order Relations in Novel Objects
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Adults appear to be more sensitive to configural information, including second-order relations (the spacing of features), in faces than in other objects. Superior processing of second-order relations in faces may arise from our experience of identifying faces at the individual level of categorisation (eg Bob versus John) but other objects at the basic level of categorisation (eg table versus chair; Gauthier and Tarr, 1997 Vision Research 37 1673- 1682). We simulated this learning difference with novel stimuli (comprised of blobs) by having two groups view the same stimuli but learn to identify the objects only at the basic level (based on the number of constituent blobs) or at both the basic level and individual level (based on the spacing, or second-order relations, of the blobs) of categorisation. Results from two experiments showed that, after training, observers in the individual-level training group were more sensitive to the second-order relations in novel exemplars of the learned category than observers in the basic-level training group. This is the first demonstration of specific improvement in sensitivity to second-order relations after training with non-face stimuli. The findings are consistent with the hypothesis that adults are more sensitive to second-order relations in faces than in other objects, at least in part, because they have more experience identifying faces at the individual level of categorisation.
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