How prior knowledge affects selective attention during category learning: An eyetracking study

Shinwoo Kim, Bob Rehder

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Research has shown that category learning is affected by (a) attention, which selects which aspects of stimuli are available for further processing, and (b) the existing semantic knowledge that learners bring to the task. However, little is known about how knowledge affects what is attended. Using eyetracking, we found that (a) knowledge indeed changes what features are attended, with knowledge-relevant features being fixated more often than irrelevant ones, (b) this effect was not due to an initial attentional bias toward relevant dimensions but rather emerged gradually as a result of observing category members, and (c) this effect grew even after a learning criterion was reached, that is, despite the absence of negative feedback. We argue that models of knowledge-based learning will remain incomplete until they specify mechanisms that dynamically select prior knowledge in response to observed category members and which then directs attention to knowledge-relevant dimensions and away from irrelevant ones.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)649-665
Number of pages17
JournalMemory and Cognition
Issue number4
StatePublished - Nov 2 2011



  • Categorization
  • Category learning
  • Eyetracking
  • Selective attention
  • Thematic knowledge

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)

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