SHELBIE SUTHERLAND, Psychology Department, University of Toronto
Title: Learning category information across development
Ebbinghaus Empire Series 2017-2018
Abstract: The world is complex, and our cognitive resources are limited. Yet, people generally navigate daily life with relative ease. I study the cognitive shortcuts that support this ability, and how they develop. In one line of research, I examine people's ability to divide the world into categories (e.g., trees, dogs) as a means of simplifying experiences and learning generalizable information for future use. I propose that, from a young age, humans prioritize learning category-level information from their experiences - a propensity so powerful that it drives participants' behaviour even in contexts where learning about categories is inconsistent with their goals. Additionally, my findings suggest that the drive to learn about categories shifts across development and category domain (e.g., animal vs. people categories). Together, this work sheds light on the mechanisms that support learning about categories. It also has important implications for understanding how people reason about particular categories, such as social groups and suggests means of reducing stereotyping and prejudice.
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