The effects of testing the relationships among relational concepts

Daniel Corral, Alice F. Healy, Matt Jones

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Many concepts are defined by their relationships to one another. However, instructors might teach these concepts individually, neglecting their interconnections. For instance, students learning about statistical power might learn how to define alpha and beta, but not how they are related. We report two experiments that examine whether there is a benefit to training subjects on relations among concepts. In Experiment 1, all subjects studied material on statistical hypothesis testing, half were subsequently quizzed on relationships among these concepts, and the other half were quizzed on their individual definitions; quizzing was used to highlight the information that was being trained in each condition (i.e., relations or definitions). Experiment 2 also included a mixed training condition that quizzed both relations and definitions, and a control condition that only included study. Subjects were then tested on both types of questions and on three conceptually related question types. In Experiment 1, subjects trained on relations performed numerically better on relational test questions than subjects trained on definitions (nonsignificant trend), whereas definitional test questions showed the reverse pattern; no performance differences were found between the groups on the other question types. In Experiment 2, relational training benefitted performance on relational test questions and on some question types that were not quizzed, whereas definitional training only benefited performance on test questions on the trained definitions. In contrast, mixed training did not aid learning above and beyond studying. Relational training thus seems to facilitate transfer of learning, whereas definitional training seems to produce training specificity effects.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number47
JournalCognitive Research: Principles and Implications
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2022


  • Concept acquisition
  • External and internal structure
  • Relational learning
  • Training specificity
  • Transfer of learning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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