Long before they enter the classroom, people learn to identify common objects such as “dog” and “chair” by simply encountering them in daily life, without intending to know what they are.
The new study is one of the first to provide experimental evidence that people learn from the accidental effects of things they know nothing about and don’t even try to understand.
The impact of the new facilities makes people “ready to learn,” said Vladimir Slutsky, co-author of the study and professor of psychology at Ohio State University.
“We often observe new things in the real world without the goal of learning about them,” Slutsky said.
“But we’ve found that simply affecting them makes an impression on our minds and makes us ready to learn about them later.”
Slutsky conducted the study with Leila Unger, a doctor of psychology in Ohio and lead author of the study. The study was published in the journal May 26, 2022 Psychological science.
The study included five different experiments with 438 people, with all experiments showing similar results.
In the study, participants first participated in an “exposure phase,” during which they played a simple computer game, seeing colorful images of unfamiliar creatures. There was no information about these creatures in the game, but for some participants, without knowing it, the creatures actually belonged to two categories – category A and category B.
As with real creatures such as dogs and cats, category A and B creatures had body parts that looked somewhat different, such as different colored tails and arms. The control group members were shown images of other unfamiliar creatures.
Later in the experiment, participants went through “explicit learning,” a process in which they were taught that creatures belonged to two categories (so-called “flurps” and “jalets”) and to determine whether each creature belonged to a category.
The researchers measured how long it took participants to study the difference between categories A and B in this explicit phase of learning.
“We found that the training was much faster for those who had previously encountered the two categories of creatures than those in the control group,” Unger said.
“Participants who were introduced to Category A and B creatures early could learn about their different distributions of characteristics, such as that blue-tailed creatures tended to have brown hands and orange-tailed creatures tended to have green hands. . Then, when the training clearly came, it was easier to attach a label to these distributions and form categories. ”
In another experiment in the study, a simple computer game in which participants played in the exposure phase involved hearing sounds while seeing images of creatures. Participants simply pressed a key each time the same sound was played twice in a row.
“The images were randomly attached to the sounds, so they couldn’t help the participants learn the sounds,” Slautsky said. “In fact, participants could have completely ignored the images, and that wouldn’t have affected how well they did.”
However, participants who were shown images of Category A and B creatures later learned differences between them in the explicit learning phase than participants who were shown other unrelated images.
“It was a pure acquaintance with the creatures, which helped them learn faster later,” said Slutsky.
But is it possible that they have already actually learned the difference between category A and B creatures during early exposure without the need for explicit training?
The answer is no, said Unger.
In some studies, a simple computer game at the exposure stage suggested that you first saw a creature in the center of the screen. Participants were then asked to press one key as quickly as possible when the creature jumped to the left of the screen, and another key when it jumped to the right.
Participants were not told this, but one type of creature always jumped to the left and the other always jumped to the right. So if they learned the difference between the two categories of creatures, they could react faster.
The results showed that participants did not respond more quickly, indicating that they did not learn the difference between Category A and Category B creatures during the exposition portion of the experiment.
But they still learned the difference between them more in terms of explicit learning of the experiment than those participants who were exposed to images of other creatures during the previous phase of exposure.
“The impact of the creatures left the participants with some hidden knowledge, but they were not ready to distinguish between the two categories. They have not yet learned, but they were ready to learn,” Unger said.
Slautski said this is one of the few studies showing evidence of covert learning.
“It was very difficult to diagnose when there was covert learning,” he said. “But this study was able to distinguish between latent learning and what people learn during explicit learning.”
The study was funded by grants to Slutsk from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.