Simplified learning in complex situations: Knowledge partitioning in function learning

Stephan Lewandowsky, Michael L Kalish, S. K. Ngang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The authors explored the phenomenon that knowledge is not always integrated and consistent but may be partitioned into independent parcels that may contain mutually contradictory information. In 4 experiments, using a function learning paradigm, a binary context variable was paired with the continuous stimulus variable of a to-be-learned function. In the first 2 experiments, when context predicted the slope of a quadratic function, generalization was context specific. Because context did not predict function values, it is suggested that people use context to gate separate learning of simpler partial functions. The 3rd experiment showed that partitioning also occurs with a decreasing linear function, whereas the 4th study showed that partitioning is absent for a linearly increasing function. The results support the notion that people simplify complex learning tasks by acquiring independent parcels of knowledge.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)163-193
Number of pages31
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: General
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2002
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology


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