Learning to categorize perceptually similar stimuli can result in people becoming more sensitive to differences along perceptual dimensions that are relevant to category membership and/or less sensitive to equivalent differences along irrelevant perceptual dimensions. These effects of acquired distinctiveness and acquired equivalence may be caused by changes in the representations of stimuli which come about through adjustment to the relative attentional weighting of perceptual features or dimensions. Alternatively, the development of associations between individual stimuli and category labels could result in those labels being incorporated into the stimulus representation, hence increasing or decreasing generalization between the stimuli. For many categorization tasks, the expected effects of attentional weighting and associative mediation on stimulus similarity are the same. We report three experiments using complex category structures, which allowed us to assess the independent influence of each mechanism on stimulus similarity. The results suggest that, in these categorization tasks, attentional weighting affects perceptual similarity but associative mediation does not.
George, D. N., & Oltean, B. P. (2020). Disentangling the effects of attentional weighting and associative mediation in perceptual learning reveals no evidence for associative mediation. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 46(7), 1207–1225. https://doi.org/10.1037/xlm0000773